Outreach Program Aims to Save Cambodia’s Treasures

An outreach program aimed at curbing the illegal excavation of pre-historic sites and the smuggling of Cambodian antiquities expanded into five more provinces yesterday, government officials said.

Prak Sonnara, deputy director-general of the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts’ heritage department, said yesterday that officials from his department and the Interior Ministry’s heritage department were involved in the project.

He said they would meet with local authorities and villagers from Svay Rieng, Prey Veng, Stung Treng, Kampot and Kandal provinces in a bid to raise awareness of issues around the conservation of valuable cultural artifacts.

“We want local villagers to report to the police when they witness some illegal digging or come across offenders,” Mr Sonnara said, adding that officials are targeting 15 locations in which pre-historic sites and temples were located.

Officials already met with local authorities, Buddhist monks and villagers in selected districts in six other provinces–Oddar Meanchey, Banteay Meanchey, Preah Vihear, Battambang, Kompong Chhang and Kompong Thom–from Sept 13 to 25.

Major General Tan Chay, chief of the Interior Ministry’s heritage department, said that the desecration of pre-historic sites has decreased thanks to educational campaigns and a crackdown on offenders, but he admitted looting still remained a problem.

” We have not yet got rid of the black market related to artifact smuggling, especially to Thailand,” Mr Chay said, adding that offenders have recently resorted to stealing artifacts in Buddhist pagodas, notably in Kandal province.

The last stop of the outreach program is scheduled to take place Oct 22 in Kandal province’s Trapaing Veng commune where a historical site was illegally excavated just last week, Mr Sonnara said.

Looting and trafficking of Khmer antiquities has been a problem at least since the days of the Khmer Rouge, said Unesco official Lim Bun Hok yesterday.

Projects such as this one were important, he said, “not only to protect artifacts which are the identity of our nation, but also it is important to show to the young generation what is the story of our culture and our tradition of sculpture.”

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