At least 44 artifacts taken from Cambodia’s ancient temples will be returned from Thailand, cultural officials confirmed Thursday.
A large number of ancient artifacts over the years were either stolen or sold. Now Thai officials have agreed to return the Angkorian pieces, weighing more than eight tons, to their native land, officials said Thursday after the National Assembly ratified a UN convention on protecting national heritages.
Most of the artifacts were lost during the last three decades, when Cambodia was torn by civil wars, Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts Secretary of State Prince Sisowath Panara Sirivuth said.
The newly ratified UN Convention on Stolen or Illegally Exported Cultural Objects is “very important for Cambodia because it can help us get back our stolen artifacts,” the prince said.
The convention establishes specific procedures and due process for nations like Cambodia to recover items and prevent plunder, Prince Panara Sirivuth said. “This convention allows Cambodia and her people to complain to the authorities and the court in any country [in the world] when Khmer artifacts are recovered,” he said.
Once the convention goes into effect, Cambodia can demand that items missing for 75 years or less be returned immediately if Cambodia can prove the artifacts belong here, the prince said.
If the artifacts have been missing longer than 75 years, according to the convention, the country has no recourse, the prince said.
Cambodia is still missing about 100 artifacts from its official heritage list, Undersecretary of State for the Ministry of Culture Chuch Phoeun said.
About 70 countries have signed the UN convention.
The 44 items on their way back to Cambodia were stolen from various temples. They include heads of temple guardian totems. They were created in the 12th and 13th centuries. Nine of the pieces are fakes that were made with concrete, but the government is insisting on their return because they still represent Khmer culture, Chuch Phoeun said.