Cambodia celebrates return of stolen ‘priceless' cultural artifacts from US, UK

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Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen recently unveiled and celebrated the return of stolen artifacts that had been looted from the nation during periods of war and instability.

On Friday, the artifacts, including a collection of stolen Angkor crown jewelry, were displayed at the government’s offices.

The treasures included gold crowns, necklaces and amulets from the Angkor period of the ninth to 14th centuries A.D. when the Khmer empire dominated in Southeast Asia.

The stolen jewelry, which made their way to private art collectors and museums around the world, also included Hindu and Buddhist statues.

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So far, many of the returned artifacts have come from the U.S. These items are expected to be displayed at the national museum.

In February, Cambodia’s culture ministry received 77 pieces of jewelry from the family of the late British antiquities collector and dealer Douglas Latchford, who was accused of buying and selling looted artifacts.

In 2019, U.S. prosecutors reportedly indicted Latchford on charges related to trafficking stolen and looted Cambodian antiquities, according to The Associated Press. He died in 2020 while awaiting trial.

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“The United States joins Cambodians in celebrating the return of looted artifacts back to their rightful home in the Kingdom,” the U.S. Embassy said in a statement.

For 20 years the United States has worked to protect, preserve, and honor Cambodia’s rich cultural heritage with local partners, American academic institutions, and nonprofit organizations. Through a long-standing U.S.-Cambodia cultural property agreement, the United States has facilitated the return of over 100 priceless antiquities.

The Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts has described the returned artifacts as “priceless cultural heritage and the souls of generations of Khmer ancestors.”

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The government is still negotiating the return of more Khmer artifacts with other countries and private collectors.

“I appeal to museums, institutions and Khmer artifact collectors to continue to return those items voluntarily to Cambodia,” Hun Sen said at the ceremony. “Heritage items should be returned to their country of origin.”

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