Smugglers’ Haul of Artifacts Seized at Border

Military police deserve a bonus for seizing 17 cultural artifacts as smugglers attempted to sneak them across the Thai border, a police official said.

The officers have asked the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts for a cash reward for recovering the artifacts, some of which date back to the 12th century, in Banteay Meanchey province, provincial Military Police Colonel Rath Sreang said.

The smugglers had stashed the artifacts on an ox cart and were trying to push it into Thai­land, Rath Sreang said.

The treasures were in two large boxes and included three Khmer vases that date back to the 12th century, a betel-nut basket, eight copper bells, ringlets and a statue of Buddha, Rath Sreang said. Six fake metal guns with Chinese lettering were also in the boxes, Rath Sreang said.

The military police continue to hold the relics in their office in Banteay Meanchey, because cultural officials in the northwestern province are not sure where they came from or what to do with them, Rath Sreang said.

The seizure prevented the further bleeding of Khmer heritage, Banteay Meanchey Depart­ment of Culture official Heang Tem said.

“If we had lost those artifacts, we would also have lost our honor,” he said.

Offering bonuses to officers who seize stolen artifacts is a good way to prevent the ongoing theft, Heang Tem said.

But that sounds like just another shake-down, Ministry of Culture Undersecretary of State Michel Tranet said. Even though there is a big market for stolen artifacts in Thailand, it is Cambodian officials who must bear responsibility for the erosion of Khmer culture, Tranet said.

“Don’t blame the Thais that buy our artifacts because we are the ones selling those things,” he said.

Even as efforts to protect temples and large sites have paid off, Cambodia continues to be victimized by small-scale looting, which destroys the scientific value of the nation’s myriad archeological sites, activists and observers say.

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