PHNOM PENH – A stolen ancient statue of Hanuman was airlifted to Cambodia on Sunday night after being on display in the Cleveland Museum of Art in Ohio, the United States, for 33 years.
Cambodian officials held a Buddhist ceremony at the Phnom Penh International Airport to welcome the arrival of the 1.1-meter-high sandstone sculpture, weighing 370 kg, that features a kneeling figure named Hanuman, who has the head of a monkey.
Speaking to reporters at the event, Chan Tani, a secretary of state at the Council of Ministers, said the 10th century statue had been stolen from Koh Ker Temple in northern Preah Vihear province during Cambodia’s civil war in the 1970s and it had been displayed in the Cleveland Museum of Art since 1982.
“We negotiated with the museum for a few months to take this statue back after we had concrete evidence to prove that the statue had been looted from the Koh Ker Temple during the war in the 1970s,” he said. Koh Ker Temple is located about 15 km from Cambodia-Thailand border.
The solid evidence was a link between the statue’s plinth still in place in Cambodia and the looted statue, he said, adding that another reason for the successful repatriation of the sculpture was thanks to a bilateral agreement for protecting cultural patrimony, which Cambodia and the United States signed in 2003.
In recent years, Cambodia has successfully pressed for the return of a series of antiquities looted from Koh Ker Temple and eventually sold to US auction houses and museums. Since June 2013, six ancient statues looted from Cambodia during the war have been repatriated from the United States to Cambodia.