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Cambodia Seeks Return of Seized Statues

Cambodia has sent a package of documents to Thailand to initiate the repatriation of 18 ancient statues from a total 43 seized by Thai authorities from traffickers over the past decade, a top official said Wednesday.

“We sent the documents to clarify that among 43 statues, 18 belong to Cambodia,” Foreign Minister Hor Namhong told VOA Khmer Wednesday. “We will conduct a study on the rest of the statues to find reasoning that they are antiques that belong to Cambodia.”

During years of civil war, antiques and statues were pillaged from ancient temples, pagodas and other sites and smuggled from the country, sometimes by armed men that authorities were reluctant to stop.

The 43 statues in Thailand were taken after they crossed the border in smuggling operations since 1999.

“Among those statues are the head of a Buddha, the head of a giant, a lion, and [partial] statues of Buddha,” said Hatt Touch, director of the museum department of the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts. “They were stolen from Bantheay Chmar temple in Bantheay Meanchey province, stolen from the Bayon temple [in Angkor Wat] and from other temples also.”

The Joint Border Committee between Thai and Cambodia will meet next week to discuss options for returning the first 18 statues, Hor Namhong said.