Seven stolen Angkorian artifacts recovered by US authorities will be returned to Cambodia today, according to officials from the US Embassy and the Ministry of Culture.
The sandstone antiquities, which were recovered separately by the US Customs and Border Protection department, were transported to Cambodia onboard the hospital ship USNS Mercy, according to a statement issued yesterday by the US Navy.
The Mercy anchored off Sihanoukville port on Tuesday evening to begin a 13-day humanitarian mission providing free medical care.
A Navy helicopter will transfer the items to shore today, US Embassy Spokesman John Johnson said.
The objects are all from the Angkorian period, between 1000 and 1500 AD, according to Mr Johnson, and will be officially presented to the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts at a ceremony at the National Museum in Phnom Penh on on July 14.
“The biggest piece is an engraved plinth that weighs nearly 500 lb [200 kg],” Mr Johnson said, adding the seven pieces have a combined weight of nearly 450 kg. The other items include two Buddha heads, he said. According to a US Navy statement, a bas-relief and a sculpture of a bust and torso will also be among the repatriated objects.
Ministry of Culture Secretary of State Chuch Phoeung said that a team from the ministry was waiting to take possession of the artifacts and oversee their transport to the National Museum.
Cambodia and the US signed a bilateral agreement in 2003 restricting the import of Cambodian archaeological objects.
Mr Phoeung said there had been strong cooperation between the two nations on this issue, and that the US had repatriated many stolen artifacts since the agreement came into force.
“When they find a suspicious artifact, US officials usually return it immediately,” he said.
Oun Phalline, director of the National Museum, said she will host a small ceremony at the museum this afternoon to mark the return of the artifacts.