Cambodia, US Extend Artifacts Trade Agreement

Cambodia and the U.S. have signed an extension to a memorandum of understanding (MoU) that imposes strict import restrictions on artifacts dating from the Bronze Age to the end of the Angkor Empire.

The original agreement was signed in 1999 as an emergency response by the U.S. government to the rampant looting and pillaging of Cambodia’s rich archaeological heritage after decades of war and lawlessness, and was the beginning of a concerted effort to curtail illicit trafficking of stolen artifacts.

Hab Touch, director-general for tangible heritage at the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, said Tuesday that this year’s update to the MoU featured some small en­hancements that would further impede the trafficking of Cam­bodia’s cultural property.

“There have been small additions to Article 2 of the MoU that will lead to an increase in measures to fight the illicit trade and provide more educational and research activity especially regarding documentation of artifacts, and increase public awareness about the laws regarding their sale and transportation,” he said.

In June, New York’s Metro­politan Museum of Art returned two statues looted in the 1970s from the Koh Ker temple complex in Preah Vihear province—proof of how the MoU has helped in rebuilding Cambodia’s cultural heritage, Mr. Touch said.

“The agreement is an important tool for collaborating and cooperating in the fight to protect the country’s archaeological legacy and in preventing the theft of more artifacts,” he said, adding that he hoped it would lead to many more of Cambodia’s historical riches being returned over the coming years.

Presently, Sotheby’s auction house in New York and U.S. federal lawyers are fighting a long-running legal battle over the return to Cambodia of a 10th century sandstone statue believed to be looted from the Koh Ker temple in 1972, with a new hearing set for October 14.

Mr. Touch said that the outcome of the tussle was a matter for the U.S. courts but hoped that there would be a successful resolution that would see the sandstone warrior back in Cambodia where it belongs.

“We now have an improved National Museum, more museums being built in the provinces and a better capacity for conserving and safekeeping our own historical artifacts.”

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