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US to return stolen 10th century statue to Cambodia

A STOLEN 10th century Cambodian temple sandstone statue will soon be returned to the country from the United States.

The sandstone statue depicting Skanda, a Hindu god, was looted from the Koh Ker area in the 90s and later sold on the international antiquities market.

According to recent statement released by the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York Audrey Strauss, the government was seeking to seize the "Skanda on a Peacock" statue and return it to Cambodia.

The statue was stolen from the Prasat Krachap temple at Koh Ker and sold by an antiquities dealer on the international art market.

"Skanda on a Peacock is considered to be a masterpiece of artistic achievement and a valuable part of the Cambodian cultural heritage."

The statement said that the owner of the statue has voluntarily relinquished possession of the statue to the custody of Homeland Security Department.

"With this action, we reaffirm our commitment to ending the sale of illegally trafficked antiquities in the United States, and begin the process of returning Skanda on a Peacock to its rightful home," Strauss said.

The statement explained that during the civil conflicts of late 20th century, statues and other artifacts were stolen from Koh Ker and entered the international art market through an organised looting network.

Local teams of looters would first remove the statues from the original location at Koh Ker and they were transported to the Thailand border.

It was then passed from brokers to dealers in Khmer artifacts in Thailand.

These dealers would sell the artifacts to local or international customers, and some of the pieces eventually ended up on the international art market.

Strauss said that Skanda on a Peacock, along with several other significant statues, were stolen from Prasat Krachap around 1997 by a former member of the Khmer Rouge leading a team of looters.

The statement said that Skanda on a Peacock was sold in 2000 and later brought into the United States.

After the most recent owner was contacted by the US authorities, the owner agreed to relinquish possession of the statue and it is currently in the possession of HSD.

Meanwhile, the Phnom Penh Post reports the Cambodian Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts saying that it was extremely elated that a rising number of its illegally exported valuable cultural belongings were coming home.

Culture minister Phoeung Sackona described the statue as an example of Khmer people's creativity during that era.

She noted that images of Skanda were rare in Khmer art, but were a prominent component in Krachap temple decoration.

"The return of this statue confirms Cambodia's commitment to find and bring back the souls of our ancestors, who left their homeland many years ago during times of war," Sackona said.

She added that the Skanda statue was likely taken from the same place where a Shiva sculpture was also taken but it will also be returned soon.

Cambodia and the US have a memorandum of understanding to work together on returning stolen artifacts.

From 928 to 944 A.D., Koh Ker was the capital of the ancient Khmer empire in Cambodia.

The Cambodian state under King Jayavarman IV constructed a vast complex of sacred monuments at Koh Ker, including the Prasat Krachap temple.

Khmer cultural experts believe that the face of Skanda on the statue may in fact be a portrait of a royal family member, such as Harshavarman II, the son of King Jayavarman IV.

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