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US returns two seized statues to Kingdom

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The first statue was an 11th-century sandstone Khmer torso in the Khleang style wearing a Khmer sampot, a traditional Cambodian garment worn around the lower body. US EMBASSY IN PHNOM PENH

US returns two seized statues to Kingdom

The US Embassy in Cambodia on Saturday facilitated the return of two Cambodian statues after its Homeland Security Investigation (HSI) seized them in 2005 and 2017.

Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts spokesman Long Ponnasirivath told The Post on Sunday that the return of the statues came after Cambodia and the US collaborated to prevent the trafficking of artefacts such as illicit artistic objects.

He said: “We have good collaborations and the US helped Cambodia prevent the trafficking of artefacts by requiring the return of Cambodian artistic objects.”

In a Facebook post on Friday, the ministry said the Cambodian and US government efforts made possible the return of the long-lost statues to the Kingdom.

The post said: “Despite the global emergency to fight against the Covid-19 pandemic, the Cambodian artefacts were returned to our homeland. This is a great benefit and glory for the nation and the Cambodian people as a whole.”

A handover ceremony was held at the National Museum in the presence of Minister of Culture and Fine Arts, Phoeurng Sackona and US Ambassador to Cambodia Patrick Murphy.

The post further said that participating officials at the ceremony had prayed for peace and prosperity, especially for Cambodia and for all Cambodian people in order that they keep clear of the pandemic.

US Embassy Spokeswoman Emily Zeeberg could not be reached for comment.

A US Embassy press release, however, quoted Murphy at the ceremony as saying the repatriation of the statues was part of the implementation of the memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed in 2018 between the US and the Cambodian government.

The MoU concerned “Import Restrictions on Categories of Archaeological Material of Cambodia, and was intended to reduce the incentive for the pillage of irreplaceable archaeological materials representing Cambodia’s rich cultural heritage”.

Murphy said: “As we celebrate the 70th anniversary of the establishment of US-Cambodia diplomatic relations, today’s return of these two statues serves as a reminder of what our two countries have achieved together.”

The press release further said that the first statue was an 11th-century sandstone Khmer torso in the Khleang style wearing a Khmer sampot, a traditional Cambodian garment worn around the lower body.

The statue was an administrative seizure in 2017 when HSI San Francisco received information regarding its sale at an auction house in California.

The auction house owner said the piece was imported in 1992 with a certificate of authenticity issued in Bangkok, Thailand, which identified the item as “Body of Khmer in Angkor Wat”. The antiquity expert determined the statue had a fair market value of $75,000.

The press release also said the second statue, from the early 10th century, was a large grey sandstone Khmer torso of an unidentified deity.

The item was a criminal seizure in September 2005 when the US Department of Homeland Security, US Customs and Border Protection and HSI Los Angeles confiscated it from a partial shipment of goods that arrived in the US from Thailand. Experts estimated the value of this statue at about $120,000.

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