Representatives of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art will next week return two ancient Cambodian statues, which were stolen from Koh Ker temple complex in Preah Vihear province, the government said on Friday.
Known as the Kneeling Attendants, the Metropolitan Museum announced its decision to return the statues last month after senior Cambodian government officials presented evidence that the 1.2-meter-tall figures, weighing 90 kg each, were looted during the turmoil of the 1970s, most likely together with various other, freestanding statues from Koh Ker.
Ek Tha, spokesman for the Press and Quick Reaction Unit at the Council of Ministers, said the statues would arrive at Phnom Penh International Airport at 5 p.m. on Tuesday and would be installed at Prime Minister Hun Sen’s office, which is known as the Peace Palace.
The return of the statues coincides with the 37th World Heritage Committee meeting, which will take place in Siem Reap and at the Peace Palace in Phnom Penh between June 16 and June 27.
“We expect more than 1,000 delegates for the meeting; they are all heritage experts and experts from Unesco, and of course this is a great opportunity [to showcase the] returned statues,” Mr. Tha said.
After the World Heritage Committee meeting, experts will decide whether the Kneeling Attendants should go on exhibit at the National Museum in Phnom Penh or in Siem Reap.
Anne Lemaistre, Unesco country representative, said she was pleased to hear about the quick return of the Kneeling Attendants.
“As Unesco, we do appreciate the gesture. Presenting the statues [at the World Heritage Committee meeting] will give them maximum exposure and is an opportunity to thank the Metropolitan Museum in front of experts from all over the world,” Ms. Lemaistre said Friday.
Mr. Tha called on other museums that are said to hold looted Khmer statues to return them to Cambodia, though he declined to identify individual institutions.
Statues on exhibit at the Denver Art Museum, the Cleveland Museum of Art and the Norton Simon Museum in California are also believed to be in possession of looted works from Koh Ker, The New York Times reported.
“We are calling on other museums to follow the Metropolitan’s lead. It should be a model for other museums, that if they occupy, control or hold Cambodian statues, unlawfully or illegally, they should return them back to Cambodia,” Mr. Tha said.
The government is currently gathering evidence on several such cases, he said.
In 2011, auction house Sotheby’s New York office tried to put up for sale an Angkorian-era statue of a mythic warrior, but the statue was confiscated after U.S. government officials filed a complaint on Cambodia’s behalf to have the statue returned to its rightful home.
A trial to determine ownership of the warrior statue is expected to start later this year in New York.