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Monday July 30, 2007

US returns ancient artifact stolen from Cambodia


PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP): The U.S. government returned to Cambodia on Monday the head of an Angkor-era sculpture that had been stolen and smuggled out of the Southeast Asian country. 

The artifact, weighing about two kilograms (4.4 pounds), is a sandstone head of a celestial dancer, or apsara, from the 12th century, the U.S. Embassy said in a statement Monday. 

It said the object was smuggled out of Cambodia into the U.S. in violation of a 2003 agreement between the two countries that aims to protect Cambodia's cultural heritage. The statement did not say when the item was stolen. 

U.S. law enforcement agents seized the artifact early this year, Jeff Daigle, an embassy spokesman said. 

"The U.S. government is very determined to assist the Cambodian government in protecting and preserving its heritage,'' Ambassador Joseph Mussomeli said after a ceremony in which the artifact was officially returned. 

"We're very grateful and happy that our police and our other law enforcement agencies are really focused on this issue.'' he said. 

Him Chhem, acting minister of culture, thanked the U.S. government for returning the artifact. 

Cambodia's centuries-old stone monuments, especially those in the ancient capital of Angkor, suffered extensive destruction from both nature and looters especially during times of war over the past three decades. 

Many priceless pieces have ended up in the hands of private collectors overseas. 

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