The United States believes that stolen cultural heritage artifacts should be returned to their countries of origin. Recently, Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs Lee Satterfield met with Cambodia’s Ambassador to the United States Keo Chhea in New York for a repatriation ceremony for 30 pieces of Cambodian artifacts of cultural and religious significance.
During the Cambodian civil conflicts of late 20th century, statues and other artifacts were stolen from Cambodia and sold on the international art market through an organized looting network. Local teams of criminals stole the statues and transported them to the Cambodia-Thailand border, where brokers would in turn transport them to dealers in Thailand. These dealers would sell the artifacts to local or international customers, who would retain the pieces or sell them on the international art market.
An antiquities dealer sold the 30-piece collection to its present owner with false documents intended to hide the fact that the artifacts had been looted. The collector voluntarily relinquished possession of the antiquities, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.
The 10th century “Skanda on a Peacock” and several other significant statues were stolen from the Prasat Krachap temple around 1997 by a former member of the Khmer Rouge.
“Skanda on a Peacock” depicts the Hindu god of war, Skanda, riding a peacock. The body and tail of the peacock are decorated with intricate engraved patterns. Khmer cultural experts believe that the face of Skanda on the statue may in fact be the likeness of a royal family member.
On a recent visit to Cambodia, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken promoted the bilateral and people-to-people relationships between the United States and Cambodia. He emphasized that the United States is committed to preserving the cultural heritage and related property of peoples in Cambodia and around the world.
“One of the things I’m very proud of,” declared Secretary Blinken, “is that we’ve been returning cultural heritage artifacts that were stolen from Cambodia and making sure that they’re returned, something I feel very strongly about.”