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US art museum returns plundered statue to Cambodia

A 10th-century sculpture of a Hindu god has been returned to Cambodia decades after it was looted from a temple. The ancient artifact, which is still missing its head, was voluntarily returned by a US art museum.

Three decades after its disappearance from a jungle temple during Cambodia's civil war, an ancient Hindu sculpture came home on Monday to a hero's welcome. The 62-inch (157 cm) sandstone torso of the god Rama dates back to the 10th-century.

"We are joyful with the torso of Rama returning home," Cambodian official Yim Nolson said during a formal ceremony in Phnom Penh. Government officials, the US ambassador, and the director of the Denver Museum of Art - which acquired the sculpture in 1986 - were all in attendance.

The artwork was returned to Cambodia following new research by the museum into the statue's origins, the government statement said.

Cambodia's Secretary of State, Chan Thani, thanked the Denver Museum of Art for voluntarily returning the Rama sculpture, which he said showed the museum's sensitivity to Cambodian culture and "also highlights the serious looting in the past that had occurred in our country and the government's efforts to repatriate those artifacts that left the country illegally which are parts of our soul as a nation."

The statue, however, is still missing its head, arms and feet.

"The royal government of Cambodia appeals to all museums and collectors around the world to follow this good example by returning the Rama's head to Cambodia," added Nolson.

Missing treasures

The statue dates back to the Khmer Empire, a Hindu-Buddhist dynasty which produced some of the world's mightiest cities and temples, including Cambodia's famous Angkor Wat complex.

However, large numbers of architectural and religious artifacts were looted and sold overseas due to decades of French colonialism and a violent civil war. Recently, the government has stepped up efforts to recover lost artifacts - many of which wound up in Western museums.

Last year, the Cleveland Museum of Art returned a statue of the Hindu monkey god Hanuman which had also been stolen from the same temple as the Rama torso. In January, a French museum returned the head of a statue which had been taken in 1886 during the colonial period.

rs/kms (AP, AFP)

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