Heritage protection meeting in Cambodia

International law enforcement agencies are meeting in Siem Reap to discuss ways to combat the illicit trade in stolen Cambodian antiquities

27 September 2007 (BBC news) – International law enforcement agencies are meeting in Siem Reap to discuss ways to combat the illicit trade in stolen Cambodian antiquities.

Cambodia bid to protect treasures
by Guy De Launey

Cambodia has invited international law enforcement agencies to help protect the country’s ancient temples.

US homeland security and FBI agents are among those who may be advising the new national heritage police force.

They are hoping to put an end to the rampant looting that has seen many monuments stripped of their statues.

Peace has not been kind to many of Cambodia’s ancient monuments. As decades of conflict ended in the 1990s, looting accelerated dramatically.

The local authorities and the United Nations’ cultural organisation, Unesco, moved quickly to protect the world-famous Angkor Wat and its surrounding temples.

But more remote sites were left to their fate.

Stolen-to-order

US agents and local officers have been meeting in Siem Reap to discuss ways of protecting what is left.

US special agent Ann Hurst said their experience of dealing with stolen artefacts from Iraq will be crucial.

“We can provide training in how to prevent these types of violations. There were stolen paintings and stolen coins being taken out of Iraq and smuggled in to the US,” she said.

“What we did in those cases was prosecute the people who smuggled the goods in – and the people who accepted the goods in the US.”

Many Cambodian items have been stolen to order for private collectors.

Others have turned up at international auction houses, so expertise in intercepting illicit shipments is badly needed.

Technical assistance in detection and policing will also bolster the thinly-stretched and poorly-funded local forces.

For Cambodia, stopping the looting is partly a matter of pride – the towers of Angkor adorn the national flag – but as tourism grows, so does the economic importance of preserving ancient treasures.

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Author: Noel Tan

Dr Noel Hidalgo Tan is the Senior Specialist in Archaeology at SEAMEO-SPAFA, the Southeast Asian Regional Centre for Archaelogy and Fine Arts.

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