A collection of 77 pieces of pre-Angkorian and Angkorian jewellery is safely back in the Kingdom after being returned by the family of late British antiquities trader Douglas Latchford.
A handover ceremony was conducted in the UK on February 12, and the pieces arrived home on February 17.
The Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts said that pursuant to a September 2020 Agreement between it – representing the Royal Government of Cambodia – and the family of Latchford, all Cambodian artefacts in the possession of the family are to be returned to Cambodia.
The ministry noted that several stone and bronze artefacts had been returned in September 2021.
On February 12, a team led by Hun Many, chairman of the National Assembly Commission in charge of Education, Youth, Sport, Religious Affairs, Culture and Tourism, accepted the return of 77 incredible pieces of the Kingdom’s cultural heritage.
The handover took place in the presence of Cambodian ambassador to the UK Kan Pharidh, Southeast Asia representatives of the FCDO, the Metropolitan Police Art and Antiques Unit, and the Arts Council England.
The jewellery, including pieces made of gold and other precious metals, “such as crowns, necklaces, bracelets, belts, earrings and pendants arrived in Cambodia on February 17”, said the culture ministry.
It added that a number of the pieces had featured in the book Khmer Gold: Gifts for the Gods, co-authored by Emma C Bunker and Douglas Latchford (2008), and that many of the pieces had never been seen by the public.
The government expressed its appreciation to London for its goodwill and cooperation in facilitating the return of these artefacts to the people of Cambodia. The return was hailed as a demonstration of the Cambodian government’s ability to work closely and effectively with international partners.
Minister of Culture and Fine Arts Phoeurng Sackona commented on the importance of the peace and political stability that the win-win policy and wise leadership of Prime Minister Hun Sen had provided.
“Comprehensive peace has given us the opportunity to welcome these precious treasures home after they were so cruelly taken during decades of war,” she said.
“The repatriation of these national treasures opens a new era of understanding and scholarship about the Angkorian Empire and its significance in the world,” she added.
She encouraged any private individuals or museums around the world that are in possession of Cambodian artefacts to cooperate with the nearest Cambodian embassy and arrange their return.
“The government consider such returns noble acts. They not only demonstrate an important contribution to a nation’s culture, but also contribute to the reconciliation and healing process of the Cambodians who went through decades of civil war and suffered tremendously from the tragedy of the Khmer Rouge genocide,” she said.
On behalf of the Cambodian delegation, Many also expressed how honoured he was to be able to participate in the repatriation of the priceless national cultural heritage treasures.
“[We] were proud and honoured to be entrusted with the historic mission to repatriate the ancient jewellery. It was our greatest pleasure to be allowed to honour our Khmer ancestors in this way,” he said.
“My colleagues and I would like to thank the culture ministry, the Cambodian ambassador to the UK, and especially the family of Douglas Latchford, for their diligence in facilitating the return of all 77 pieces of jewellery. This was an admirable act – and a model for how we expect others to act from now on,” he added.