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Artifact Theft 'Cultural Suicide': Official

Not a single Cambodian temple has been immune to looting or war, a scientist said Monday, calling for the preservation of the temples as necessary for cultural identity.

“How can one identify us as Khmer, if we don’t preserve the culture and temples our ancestors left for us?” said Michel Tranet, a doctoral archeologist, as a guest on “Hello VOA.”

At least 1,000 historic temples in Cambodia face “destruction” from looting and war, he said.

“This is not just a crime, but it’s cultural suicide,” he said. “I’m really suffering, seeing our artifacts on the market, but what can I do?”

Asked by one “Hello VOA” caller where temple artifacts are sold, Tranet emphasized that the digging, looting, destruction, trafficking, sale and purchase of artifacts is a crime.

“I’ve scavenged for artifacts before,” the caller, from Kampong Thom, said. “We dug three to four meters underneath temples. We usually found gold. But one day, I got a statue. When we took the statue home, a business man came…. He took it and he did not pay me. I was cheated. Where did he sell it?”

Tranet, who once served as undersecretary of state for the Ministry of Culture, also emphasized the importance of identifying Cambodian artifacts on the market.

“We do not have a full inventory yet, even though there are efforts from the Ministry of Culture and the government,” he said.

In January, Thailand agreed to return a group of statues that had been seized by Thai police as looters left Cambodia.