Cambodia on Tuesday organized an official ceremony to welcome the return of three stolen statues from the United States after they had been absent from their homeland for more than 40 years.
The larger than life-size sandstone statues, carved in the 10th century, were airlifted to Cambodia from the United States last week. They included a statue of a Hindu warrior Duryodhana, a statue of Balarama, the brother of the god Krishna, and a statue of warrior Bhima, according to a government's press statement.
Addressing the ceremony at the government building, Deputy Prime Minister and Cabinet Minister Sok An said the New York-based auction house Sotheby's returned Duryodhana to Cambodia on May 7 after a long legal struggle by the U.S. Attorney-General's Office of the Southern District of New York with the active support of the Cambodian legal team.
The auction house Christie's voluntarily agreed to transfer Balarama to Cambodia as the Norton Simon Museum in California agreed to give Bhima back to Cambodia after lengthy but cordial direct negotiations.
The three antiquities had been hacked from their plinths and looted from the Koh Ker temple complex in northern Cambodia at the time of Cambodia's civil war in the 1970s, ending up in private collections or on display in museums in the United States. "The return of the artifacts is a milestone in our policy concerning the protection of cultural heritage,"Sok An said, adding that the three newly returned statues were reunited with their pedestals and would be displayed to the public in the National Museum in Phnom Penh.
Meanwhile, he appealed to other museums and art collectors around the world to follow the example of returning plundered treasures to their rightful owners as part of the worldwide campaign for the protection of cultural heritage.
The ceremony was also attended by representatives from the Christie's and the Norton Simon Museum. "We are at Christie's absolutely delighted to see the statue find its way back to its birthplace," Martin Wilson, co-head of legal affairs for Christie's International, said.
Walter Timoshuk, president of the Norton Simon Museum, said the museum was pleased to repatriate the antiquity to Cambodia after many rounds of frank discussions between museum officials and Cambodian government officials.
Last June, the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Met) in New York voluntarily returned two 10th century statues of"Kneeling Attendants"to Cambodia after nearly 20 years on display in the museum.
According to Jeff Daigle, deputy chief of mission of the U.S. Embassy to Cambodia, ninety-seven Cambodian artifacts have been repatriated from the United States to Cambodia over the past two decades. "This highlighted that the United States stands with Cambodia in its effort to safeguard cultural legacy and to deepen bond, cooperation, friendship and mutual respect between the peoples and governments of our two nations," he said.