After the horrors, Cambodia looks to reclaim its heritage
As the tumultuous past recedes, government and cultural bodies have become active in trying to retrieve Khmer statues and artefacts, which may have been looted during political upheavals in the early 1970s and routed through Bangkok
For decades, thousands of Khmer antiquities have been sold on the international art market and through major auction houses in London, New York and elsewhere, bought up by leading museums and wealthy collectors. A large portion of these artefacts came with little or no ownership history, meaning they could well have been looted from temple complexes by thieves during the country's years of political turmoil, with Cambodia powerless to stem the trade or repatriate any of the items.
FAR APART: The pedestal and feet belonging to a 1,000-year-old statue of a mythic warrior from the Khmer kingdom of Koh Ker, Cambodia. Below, a Sotheby’s catalogue, featuring the 10th-century statue estimated to be worth US$2-$3 million (61.3-92 million baht).
This year, however, things have begun to change. Currently under litigation in New York is a 10th-century statue that Sotheby's auction house had been preparing to put up for sale with a catalogue estimate of US$2-3 million (60-90 million baht). In March, the Cambodian and US governments filed court papers to seize the statue, which they say was stolen from a site in Koh Ker, Cambodia, and exported illegally. Sotheby's has countered that the statue could have been taken at any point during its 1,000 year history and moved for the case to be dismissed.
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