prasat banteay chhmar, banteay meanchey province – In 1994, the most valuable artifacts at Banteay Chhmar were being discovered using land mine detectors left by UNTAC, said one colonel at the time. “An ideal locating tool,” he said. “If I’m lucky, I’ll get a beautiful bronze statue and I can build a new villa in Battambang.”
Looting has been a constant problem at Banteay Chhmar since the mid-’80s and the temple was recently the focus of a UN conference to promote the return of cultural property to original owners.
Some of what you could see in 1994 is no longer there and what remains may not last long. Thieves struck in November and December and dozens of meters of linear bas reliefs and hundreds of stones had been removed, according to Claude Jacques, special adviser to the Unesco on Angkor Wat, who visited the temple in January. Temple steles from the 13th century bearing “extraordinary and hugely valuable” inscriptions were also missing. He said in January that villagers near the temple accused Cambodian soldiers of leading the month-long pillage.
He quoted witnesses as saying that a division of at least several hundred soldiers had worked with equipment including road drills. Two chisels were found at the scene by Unesco, he said.
On Jan 5, 117 Khmer sculptures believed stolen from the temple and found on board a truck bound for Bangkok were seized by Thai authorities.
Jacques said the seizure represented only half of what was missing from Banteay Chhmar. In December he found a 1.5 meter-tall temple stele in a Bangkok antique shop that he claimed came from the ruins. He said it was on sale for less than $10,000.
(Agence-France Presse contributed to this report)