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Exhibition Celebrates Khmer Bronze Casters, With Hope for Action

While museum-goers in Washington enjoy a new display of ancient Cambodian bronzes on loan from the National Museum of Cambodia, a US scholar says artifacts smuggled out of the country in the past should be returned home.

“All people who study Cambodia and all people who visit Cambodia know how important it is that monuments in Cambodia remain as intact as possible,” Hiram Woodward, a emeritus curator of Asian art, told VOA Khmer after his lecture and a tour of the “Gods of Angkor” exhibit Saturday.

“There are now treaties concerning bringing stone sculptures into the United States,” he said, “and one hopes that some of the objects that have been removed from Cambodia in past years will eventually make their way back to Cambodia.”

Both countries signed an agreement in 2003 banning the illegal import of Cambodian artifacts to the US.

Ork Sophon, director general of the Ministry of Culture, told VOA Khmer Monday that illegal smuggling has decreased as a result, while the US has confiscated and returned a number of antiquities.

However, some artifacts that were purchased before the 2003 agreement remain in the US, and Cambodia is trying to convince collectors to voluntarily return them, Ork Sophon said.

“We have so far directly contacted US private collectors who are now getting old and have no children to take care of the items [and asked them] to return them to us,” he said.

Cambodian officials hope the “Gods of Angkor” exhibit, which is currently on display at the Freer and Sackler Galleries in Washington in collaboration with Cambodia’s National Museum, will raise artifact awareness and inspire more participation in the fight against smuggling.