Looted ancient statues returned to Cambodia from US
Cambodia has officially welcomed the return of three statues looted from an ancient temple at the height of the civil war more than 40 years ago.
Authorities say the sandstone artworks, which date from the 10th century, were stolen in the 1970s from the Koh Ker temple site near the famed Angkor Wat complex.
The statues, part of a nine-strong ensemble, depict warriors Duryodhana and Bhima locked in combat, as well as a bystander called Balarama.
They were recently returned from the United States and are considered pieces of extraordinary value to the Cambodian people and part of their cultural heritage.
"In a long 40-year journey, surviving civil wars, looting, smuggling and travelling the world, these three (statues) have now regained their freedom and returned home," Cambodian deputy prime minister Sok An said during a homecoming ceremony on Tuesday.
"The facts are now established. Their odyssey ends here.
"These precious symbols of our heritage have returned to their rightful owners."
Sok An said Cambodia would continue to search for three more statues from the Koh Ker site that remain missing.
The statue of Duryodhana was stolen in 1972 and first sold at an auction in London in 1975.
It was nearly auctioned again at Sotheby's in New York in March 2011 but the sale was stopped after Cambodian authorities launched an appeal through UNESCO.
The 1.58 metre statue was eventually transferred to the Cambodian government in early May after a long legal struggle.
The second warrior statue, Bhima, was bought in 1976 by the Norton Simon Museum in California.
After months of discussions, the US museum agreed to return Bhima as a "gift" to Cambodia last month.
The statue Balarama was returned as part of an agreement between the Cambodian government and Christie's auction house in the US, according to the Cambodian government.
"These are beautiful works of art... they also have something to say. They tell a story," Martin Wilson, a representative from Christie's, said.
The repatriation of the three statues follows the return in June last year of two other Khmer 10th century statues known as the Kneeling Attendants, which Cambodia says were also looted in the 1970s from the Koh Ker temple site.
They were on show for 20 years at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art.