06/04/2014, 00.00
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Phnom Penh is celebrating the return of three precious ancient statues

Dated to the 10th century they were looted in the '70s, at the time of the Civil War. They belong to the temple of Koh Ker, just off the famous Angkor Wat complex. The cultural heritage of the Cambodian people, for over 40 years they were in the hands of collectors and museums in the West. Deputy premier: "They have come home".

Phnom Penh (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Cambodia is celebrating the return of the three ancient statues, looted more than 40 years ago from the former Kingdom, one of which has been recovered after a long legal battle with the United States. These are age-old artifacts characteristic of Hindu mythology and were looted at the time of the civil war in the 1970s, to be sold to collectors in the West for exhibitions in major American museums. The ceremony for the return of precious objects - taken from the temple of Koh Ker, in Siem Reap province, not far from the famous temples of Angkor Wat - was attended by the Deputy Prime Minister Sok An and the U.S. diplomat Jeff Daigle.

The statues, part of a set of nine works, depict warriors "Duryodhana" and "Bhima" in fighting stance, as well as a spectator called "Balarama". Returned by the United States, experts say the pieces are of extraordinary value because characteristic of the history of Cambodia, its people and its cultural heritage.

Celebrating the return of the artifacts, the deputy premier said that "in a long 40-year journey, surviving civil wars, looting, smuggling and travelling the world, these three have now regained their freedom and returned home." The goal is to find three other statues, also belonging to the Koh Ker complex, which are currently missing.

In an attempt to stem the trafficking in ancient works of art and artifacts, in 1993 the Cambodian government passed a law specifically prohibiting any removal without the approval of the authorities. Many items are at the center of a legal dispute, although there is also general agreement in the art world that pieces were acquired illegitimately if they were exported without clear and valid documentation after 1970 - the year of a UN cultural agreement targeting trafficking in antiquities".

In June last year, three other 10th century statues, known as the "Kneeling Assistants" and which also belong to the Koh Ker complex, were returned to the Cambodian government. They had been robbed in the 70s and exposed for more than 20 years at the Metropolitan Museum in New York.


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