4 of the 7 artifacts being returned to Cambodia
Thailand are making a big noise today after their cabinet agreed to return 7 artifacts
that even they couldn't find an excuse to keep. There are another 36 sandstone sculptures that they are hanging onto until the Cambodian government can prove they are Khmer in origin. Essentially, Thailand are making Cambodia jump through hoops to get back artifacts that were stolen from Cambodia nearly a decade ago and found in a sea-freight cargo seizure by Thai customs. If Cambodia can prove provenance, either documentary or photographic, Thailand will return the other 36 artifacts. Until the handing-over ceremony, the 7 soon-to-be-returned artworks will go on show in Bangkok's National Museum. They include an 86-centimetre bust of a goddess and six heads of demons varying in height from 60cm to 81cm. Cambodia have been asking for the return of these items for a few years and only now have they agreed to their release. This is a thorny subject for me as I get easily riled when I hear of Khmer artifacts residing in other countries, when they really should be housed in Cambodia. Don't even get me started on the French, who came here, took what they liked the look of and returned to France with their ships laden with Khmer bounty. Presumably, the French removal firm that were employed to strip temples like Preah Khan of Kompong Svay of their treasures had a signed thumb-printed note from the local village chief that it was okay to remove the items from the country.
As if. The French even had the brazen cheek to appoint a known thief of Angkorean sculpture from Banteay Srei, Andre Malraux, as their Minister of Culture for a decade.
In a similar vein, the former King of Cambodia, Norodom Sihanouk
, handed over his personal archive of over 1 million documents and 10,000 photos to... wait for it... the French National Archives in Paris, a couple of years ago. Can you believe it? As if they haven't got enough historic Cambodian items already in their possession. I await one of the former King's zany hand-scribbled notes explaining his reasoning behind this incredulous decision any day now. What was wrong with presenting these items, collected after 1970, to a Cambodian institution like the National Archives for example, or even (am I really saying this) the French-run Bophana Center, or leave them with me and I'll look after them. But keep them in Cambodia, it's the least you can do. I could almost feel Jane Fonda squirm when I heard the documents include a letter from the American actress to Sihanouk congratulating him on the Khmer Rouge victory and offering to take up their cause in the US - nice choice Jane. The 'Sihanouk Fund' will be housed at the Soubise Hotel in Paris - it's taken two years to catalogue the stuff. I'm speechless.
Labels: Norodom Sihanouk