Cambodia held here this afternoon at the Friendship Building of the Office of the Council of Ministers (OCM) a ceremony to officially welcome three returned ancient statues – Duryodhana, Bhima, and Balarama – under the presidency of H.E. Sok An, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister in charge of OCM, as the High Representative of the Prime Minister Samdech Akka Moha Sena Padei Techo Hun Sen.
Mr. Jeff Daigle, Deputy Chief of Mission of the U.S. Embassy, Mr. Walter Timoshuk, President of the Norton Simon Museum, and Mr. Martin Wilson, Global Co-Head of Legal & Risks, Ms. Sandra Cobden, General Counsel and Ms. Dadhya Jain-Patel, Head of Sales, India and Southeast Asian Arts representing Christie’s International, were also present at the event.
Addressing to the ceremony, H.E. Sok An laid stress on the successful efforts of the Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC), under the wise leadership of Prime Minister Samdech Techo Hun Sen, working in partnership with the U.S. government together with UNESCO, the Ecole Française d’Extrême-Orient (EFEO) and other experts to return the larger than life-size stone images of the duelling warriors, Duryodhana and Bhima, together with Balarama, one of the observers of this battle scene, to their rightful owners.
“This remarkable day marks a milestone in our policy concerning the protection of cultural heritage that the RGC has been implementing tirelessly within the framework of the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property,” he said.
Two more statues from this Prasat Chen ensemble – Sahadeva and Nakula, two of the Pandava brothers – were returned to Cambodia from the Metropolitan Museum in New York in June 2013, during the 37th Session of the World Heritage Committee, said H.E. Sok An, adding that the three newly returned statues will join them and will be displayed to the public in the National Museum of Cambodia, reunited with their pedestals.
The Cambodian DPM also took the opportunity to express his deepest appreciation to all the parties concerned for their respective contributions to such a great achievement. He further called on other museums and art collectors around the world to follow the example of returning plundered treasures to their rightful owners as part of the worldwide campaign for the protection of cultural heritage.
According to an OCM’s press release, the three returned statues, originating from the Prasat Chen Temple of Koh Ker, where they were carved in the reign of Jayavarman IV in the 10th century, returned home to Cambodia in the last week of May 2014, following their absence from their homeland of more than 40 years.
The Duryodhana statue was transferred on May 7, 2014 in New York to the RGC, represented by H.E. Deputy Prime Minister Dr. Sok An, as a result of cooperation between the governments of Cambodia and the United States and a long legal struggle by the U.S. Attorney-General’s Office of the Southern District of New York with the active support of the Cambodian legal team.
With the U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh and the U.S. Attorney-General’s Office as intermediaries, the Bhima statue had been returned following lengthy but cordial direct negotiations between Cambodian officials and the representatives of the Norton Simon Museum of Pasadena, California.
The Balarama is returning as part of an agreement between the RGC and Christie’s.