Cambodian king urges Prime Minister to put an end to destroying ancient temples for black market trade

Corrupt military officials in cahoots with Thai art dealers are hacking away at the temples


King Norodom Sihanouk of Cambodia has called on Prime Minister Hun Sen to save Cambodia’s heritage and stop the theft and smuggling of ancient artefacts out of the country. According to a Reuters news agency report, ancient temples are being hacked to pieces by corrupt Cambodian military officials working for Thai art dealers. Thai officials from the Prachin Buri province are preparing to return 117 slabs intercepted by police near the Cambodian border in January. The stone carvings were removed from an inner wall of the twelfth-century Banteay Chamar temple located 200 miles northwest of Phnom Penh. When pieced together they depict a three-metre high Buddha. The haul was impounded in Thailand’s Prachin Buri province. A spokesperson for the Thai government later said that a Thai antiques dealer had ordered the antiquities to be stolen from Banteay Chamar and tried to bribe officials in Prachin Buri. According to Thai officials an earlier shipment of artefacts ordered by the same dealer was smuggled into Thailand in December and allegedly is now on view in a showroom in Bangkok. The Thai art dealer is believed to have hundreds of photographs of the Banteay Chamar temple and will get corrupt Cambodian military contacts to remove specific items at the request of his customers. Cambodia’s undersecretary of State for Culture, Chuch Phoeurn, told Reuters that he has often seen broken statues from Angkor and other sites in Cambodia for sale in Thailand. He went on to say that recovering the looted items would be difficult but possible with the co-operation of Thai authorities: “Under international law, when these objects cross borders, it’s very difficult to bring them home. Stopping the stealing also depends on our military commanders.”

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Cambodian king says stop destroying ancient temples for black market'