In an emotional ceremony in January this year, the government of Cambodia expressed heartfelt gratitude to a British-Thai woman, Julia Latchford, for what seemed a remarkably generous offer of immense cultural importance. Latchford had agreed to give the south-east Asian country her entire collection of 125 antiquities from Cambodia’s Khmer period – magnificent statues, sculptures, gold and bronze figurines that she had inherited when her father, Douglas, died last year.
Cambodia’s culture minister, Phoeurng Sackona, described Julia Latchford as “precious and selfless and beautiful”, and said of the historic treasures: “Happiness is not enough to sum up my emotions … It’s a magical feeling to know they are coming back.”
But behind the ceremonial smiles lay a shameful reality: that during Cambodia’s decades of turmoil, its astonishing cultural heritage, sacred antiquities crafted as long ago as the ninth century, were ruthlessly plundered and sold around the world.
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