Thais to return looted Cambodian antiquities

80687_990x742-cb1402663024PHNOM PENH, Cambodia/BANGKOK – Thailand is to return ancient Khmer artifacts looted from temples during the turmoil of the 1970s, Cambodian officials said Monday.

According to the Cambodian Foreign Ministry, dozens of stolen relics were confiscated by Thai authorities in 1999 and Thailand has now agreed to return 16.

Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong told The Anadolu Agency that discussions over the remaining items are continuing.

A report in the Phnom Penh Post on Monday said the artifacts to be returned were among a stash of several thousand Hindu and Buddhist statues and other antiquities held by a senior Thai police official.

Thai sources identified the official as Lieutenant General Pongpat Chayapan, chief of the Central Investigation Bureau and Thailand’s second highest ranking police officer until his arrest in November in a corruption scandal. He is uncle to the Thai crown prince’s wife, since excluded from the royal family.

Kuong said seven of 43 confiscated items were returned to Cambodia in 2009 and a joint commission has arranged the return of a further 16.

“There are 20 remaining, and the ministries of culture from the two countries continue to work with each other on the rest,” he added.

A high-ranking official at the Thai Foreign Ministry, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said there was no information available about the return of the antiques.

“There was a joint commission meeting a few days ago but this issue was not raised,” the official said. “I have not heard anything about it.”

The Post quoted Kong Vireak, director of Cambodia’s National Museum, as saying that Cambodian officials had been denied access to the trove of figurines and statues. The report also said that while most of the pieces are replicas, some are at least 1,400 years old.

Looting was rife during the 1970s, when Cambodia was torn apart by civil war and the brutal regime of the Khmer Rouge.

Last year, three pre-Angkorian statues that were hacked from their bases at a temple complex in Koh Ker in the 1970s were returned by the Norton Simon Museum in California and by Sotheby’s and Christie’s auction houses.