Authorities confiscated 18 antique statues from foreign tourists during various inspections at Pochentong International Airport, a customs official at the airport said Wednesday.
“In November, we seized a total of 18 Buddhist statues made during the 16th or 17th century or during the Odong and French colonial area from foreign visitors,” said Khieu Sam An, customs chief at Pochentong International Airport. He said authorities confiscated artifacts from French, German, Dutch, British and US citizens.
In the most recent events, officials on Nov 28 seized six wooden statues from a Cambodian-American who is suspected of exporting the artifacts back to the US, Khieu Sam An said. On Nov 29, another wooden statue was taken from another US citizen, the customs official said.
Though statues that can be exported from the country need approval from the Ministry of Culture, souvenir shops in Phsar Tuol Tumpong often sell the statues to tourists “without care,” said Seng Suth, chief of the Department of Patrimony at the Ministry of Culture. “They only do good business,” Seng Suth said.
According to Seng Suth, experts examined all the statues seized by customs agents at Pochentong International Airport and determined that many of them were made during the Odong era in the 17th century and a few were made during the French colonial era.
Thieves frequently loot the pagodas where the ancient statues were held and sell them in the open markets, especially in Tuol Tumpong. Seng Suth said the Ministry of Culture is focused on cracking down on the illegal transport of ancient Cambodian artifacts, but has trouble because it is short of resources and funds.
He said that authorities should crack down on the market vendors who sell the statues—all the tourists who were caught with the statues admitted to buying the artifacts in the markets.
The use of X-rays at Pochentong helps authorities detect smuggled artifacts. A similar X-ray at the Siem Reap Airport would also aid in the effort to crack down on the illegal transport of artifacts, Seng Suth said.