US, Cambodia to Reassess Accord on Importing Antiquities

A U.S. State Department committee is scheduled to hold a meeting on October 25 to review an agreement it signed with Cambodia in 1999 on the import of Khmer antiquities, officials said yesterday.

The memorandum of understanding (MoU) between the two countries—which is updated every five years by the Cultural Property Advisory Committee—imposes strict import restrictions on artifacts dating from the Bronze Age to the end of the Angkor empire.

Hab Touch, director general for tangible heritage at the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, said the government was preparing a report to present at the meeting in Washington. The memorandum will be officially updated next year.

“We’ll provide some recommendations to enhance this MoU,” Mr. Touch said. “We hope to take a more active [approach] in fighting the trafficking of cultural property,” he added, declining to say what changes to the existing agreement are being sought after.

Mr. Touch said the review was not related to a lawsuit Cambodia has filed against auction house Sotheby’s New York branch over a 10th-century Khmer statue that Cambodia claims was stolen in the 1970s.

In April, the U.S. government, at Cambodia’s request, moved to seize the 10th-century Khmer statue from the New York auction house. Cambodia and Sotheby’s are now engaged in a legal battle over the sandstone warrior, which Cambodia alleges was looted from the Koh Ker temple complex in Preah Vihear province.

Currently, the bilateral agreement between Cambodia and the U.S. stipulates that: “Objects may enter the U.S. only if they have an export permit issued by Cambodian authorities or document that they left Cambodia prior to the effective date of the restriction,” according to the U.S. State Department website.

For antiquities made of stone, that means they must have left Cambodia before December 1999, and for objects made from metal and ceramic, before September 2003, according to the State Department.

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