Cambodia has welcomed home three ancient Hindu statues, which were stolen from a temple decades ago. Authorities said the statues were looted from the Koh Ker temple in Siem Reap province, which also houses Angkor Wat, during the civil war.
The statues which were returned from the United States, depict mythological figures Duryodhana, Balarama and Bhima. Experts said the statues were hacked off their bases and smuggled out, eventually ending up with collectors.
A ceremony was held in the capital city Phnom Penh to welcome the statues back.
“In a long 40-year journey, surviving civil wars, looting, smuggling and travelling the world, these three statues have now regained their freedom and returned home,” Deputy Prime Minister Sok An said.
He said the government was asking other museums to return similar objects.
“The facts are now established. These precious symbols of our heritage have returned to their rightful owners,” he said. The 158cm (5ft) statue of Duryodhana was stolen in 1972 and was sold at a London auction in 1975.
It was nearly auctioned again at Sotheby’s in New York, but the sale was stopped after Cambodian authorities launched an appeal.
The statue was transferred back to Cambodia in early May after a long legal struggle.The second warrior statue, Bhima, was bought in 1976 by the Norton Simon Museum in California.
After months of discussions, the museum agreed to return its statue as a “gift” to Cambodia last month. The third statue of Balarama was returned as part of an agreement between the Cambodian government and Christie’s auction house in the US.
Their return follows two statues from the same temple which were repatriated in June last year, after being displayed at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art for two decades.