The US has returned an ancient Angkorian sculpture to Cambodia that was seized in America after being illegally sent there from Thailand earlier this year, officials said.
US Ambassador to Cambodia Joseph Mussomeli and acting Culture Minister Him Chhem presided over a repatriation ceremony for the 12th-century sandstone Apsara dancer Monday morning at the National Museum in Phnom Penh.
The US immigration department confiscated the piece as a result of an investigation into a Thai national suspected of smuggling in 2004, said Ann Hurst, vice attache for the US immigration department, who is based in Bangkok and was present at Monday’s ceremony.
Once smuggled into Thailand, the sandstone piece was purchased by a US resident and shipped there earlier this year, Hurst said.
“It was seized almost upon its arrival in the US,” she said, adding that the US government is preparing to return two additional Khmer artifacts in 2008.
In Siyontha, Culture Ministry secretary of state, said that the pillaging of Cambodia’s ancient heritage has been a problem since the 1970s and that the US has sent an important message by returning the artifact.
“I believe other countries will follow the United States’ good example,” he said.
A 2003 agreement between the US and Cambodia makes it illegal to import into the US ancient Khmer stone, metal and ceramic archaeological material without explicit permission.
Mussomeli said that many people buying Khmer relics in the US are not aware they are illegally obtained.
“I hope this gives good publicity so that more artifacts are returned,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Kay Kimsong)