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Hun Sen Thanks New York’s Met for Return of Statues

U.S. prosecutors and the Cambodian government say the 1,000-year-old sandstone statue, The Mahabharata, was looted from the temple of Prasat Chen in the 1960s or 1970S.
PHNOM PENH - Prime Minister Hun Sen on Friday offered his thanks to the Metropolitan Museum of New York, which has decided to return two 10th-Century statues that may have been trafficked from the country during the 1970s.

The museum’s decision comes as the Cambodian government seeks the return of another statue from the auction house Sotheby’s, which is fighting the claim.

The Met agreed to return the statues on compelling evidence they had been smuggled out of the country during the cover of war, as it enveloped the country prior to the Khmer Rouge takeover. The statues, called the Kneeling Attendants, were among the best works of the museum’s Southeast Asian collection.

Like the statue in the Sotheby’s case, the Kneeling Attendants appear to have been stolen from the Koh Ker temple complex in Preah Vihear province.

During a weekly meeting of government ministers on Friday, Hun Sen said he “appreciated” the Met’s decision to return the statues, according to officials present at the meeting.

“He thanked the museum for its decision and asked the Cambodian delegation to proceed so that the statues can be returned,” Phay Siphan, a spokesman for the Council of Ministers, told reporters Friday. No date has been officially scheduled for the return of the statues, which remain in New York.

In a statement announcing the return last week, the Met’s director, Thomas Campbell, said the museum was committed to high standards of provenance of the art in its collections.

“This is a case in which additional information regarding the Kneeling Attendants has led the Museum to consider facts that were not known at the time of the acquisition and to take the action we are announcing today,” he said. “In returning the statues, the museum is acting to strengthen the good relationship it has long maintained with scholarly institutions and colleagues in Cambodia and to foster and celebrate continued cooperation and dialogue between us.”

Chan Thany, secretary of state for the Council of Ministers, said officials hope to have the statues returned before a World Heritage summit to be held in Cambodia in June.