PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — The United States returned seven sculptures from the great Angkorian era on Thursday that had been smuggled out of Cambodia.
Cambodian Buddhist monks blessed the artifacts during a handover ceremony at the port of Sihanoukville, said John Johnson, a U.S. embassy spokesman.
The sandstone sculptures were recovered by U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials during an 2008 raid in Los Angeles. They arrived in Cambodia aboard the hospital ship USNS Mercy on Tuesday, Johnson said.
The Mercy docked at the seaport for a 13-day mission to provide free medical care to Cambodians.
Johnson said the artifacts include two heads of the Buddha, a bas-relief and an engraved plinth. The items date from 1000 to 1500 when the kings of Angkor ruled over an extensive empire and produced some of the world’s most magnificent temples, including the famed Angkor Wat complex.
Cambodia and the United States signed an agreement to protect Cambodia’s cultural heritage in 2003.
In 2007, the U.S. government returned the sandstone sculpture of a celestial dancer, or apsara, dating from the 12th century.
Cambodia’s historic monuments suffered extensive damage from natural causes and looters, especially during the wars of the last three decades.
Many priceless pieces have ended up in private collections overseas.
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