Thailand to send Cambodian artefacts back

Thailand to send Cambodian artefacts back

Thailand will return to Cambodia more than a dozen artefacts seized from the disgraced former crime-buster Lt-General Pongpat Chayaphan, the foreign ministry said yesterday.

Foreign Minister Tanasak Patimapragorn informed his counterpart Hor Namhong of the decision during the Thailand-Cambodia Joint Commission for Bilateral Cooperation's meeting in Siem Reap last Friday, an official said.

But details are still unclear on how many and which artefacts will be sent back. The Culture Ministry would work out things with their Cambodian counterparts, he said.

The Phnom Penh Post reported yesterday that 16 artefacts recovered from smugglers in 1999 would be returned.

Twenty other objects from the same stash could also be returned if further investigation conclusively shows they are Cambodian, Cambodian Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong was quoted as saying.

There is no clear connection between the artefacts in Cambodian media report and those confiscated from Pongpat's syndicate.

Fine Arts officials in Thailand offered last November to send back some of 50 artefacts worth millions of baht found among the trove assembled by Pongpat to their countries of origin.

The Cambodian foreign ministry told its embassy in Bangkok to seek permission from Thai authorities to photograph those objects, which may have been taken out of the country illegally.

The items recovered from Pongpat's syndicate date back to ancient Khmer, Lao, Myanmar, Ayutthaya and Rattanakosin kingdoms. Authorities are tracing how the former Central Investigation Bureau (CIB) chief acquired them.

But it was unclear which artefacts belong to Cambodia, as their officials have not been able to check the objects. The Cambodian embassy sought permission from Thai authorities to see them late last year.

"Until now, we have not been to Thailand to see any of the objects," Kong Vireak, director of the National Museum said, adding that he hopes Cambodian experts will be permitted to jointly assess the remaining items' authenticity.

Pongpat was arrested last November on lese majeste, corruption, misconduct, smuggling and racketeering charges. Police found underground vaults at his home containing valuables, including the art treasures, worth more than Bt2 billion in total.

Thirteen items are 'Category 1' deities and Buddha images built in Khmer style, while the remaining 37 are 'Category 2' Buddha images or Hindu deities created during different kingdoms.

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