by Nguon Sovan
PHNOM PENH, June 11 (Xinhua) -- The two 10th century stone statues of "Kneeling Attendants" arrived in Cambodia by air on Tuesday evening after nearly 20 years on public display in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Met) in New York.
At the Phnom Penh International Airport, Cambodian and UNESCO officials and Buddhist monks held a welcome home ceremony.
"This is a historical event for Cambodia, and we are very excited to see the return of the statues," Chan Tany, secretary of state at the Council of Ministers, told Xinhua at the welcome home ceremony.
He said the statues were returned to Cambodia after a negotiation between Cambodian officials and the Met in April.
"We claim them based on legal aspect, evidence, cultural aspect and statues' history," he said.
Ros Banath, president of Cambodian National Commission for UNESCO, said that the two statues would be on display at the Peace Palace during the 37th Session of the World Heritage Committee on June 16-27.
He said currently, Cambodia has been working to claim its artifacts, which were looted from Cambodia during war time in the 1970s, back from other museums and art collectors.
"One of the cases is the 10th century sandstone statue at Sotheby's auction in New York. The statue was looted from a temple in Cambodia. Now, we are suing the Sotheby's auction to claim the statue back," he told Xinhua.
Maxwell K. Hearn, Douglas Dillon, chairman of the department of Asian Art at the Met, said at the ceremony, the Met had great honor to have the two "Kneeling Attendants" on display at the museum for nearly two decades and was also pleased to return the two statues to their homeland, Cambodia.
Speaking in an interview with Xinhua on Tuesday, Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister and cabinet Minister Sok An said that Cambodia has a strong commitment to claim back antiquities that were looted and exported illegally, mostly during the civil war era of the 1970s.
"The decision of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York to return two stone statues is the latest good example of success," he said. "These two stone statues of Pandavas are part of entire ensemble that had been looted from Prasat Chen at Koh Ker temple in Preah Vihear province."
According to a press statement of Cambodian Council of Ministers, the two statues were illicitly removed from Prasat Chen at Koh Ker temple at the time of Cambodia's civil war in the 1970s and were donated to the Met between 1987 and 1992.
"The Met's decision to return the statues shows the high standard of professional ethics of the museum, and we appeal to all other museums and art collectors holding treasures of Khmer art to follow this example and return them to Cambodia," the statement said.
It said that the successful restitution of the two ancient statues was a result of the worldwide campaign for the protection of cultural heritage led by UNESCO, and the determination of Cambodian government to restore the cultural soul of Cambodia.
The Met announced to return the two statues to Cambodia on May 3 after it had placed the statues on display in the Galleries for South and Southeast Asian Art since 1994. In the statement, Director of the Metropolitan Thomas P. Campbell said the museum was not known the statutes' history at the time of the acquisition.
"In returning the statues, the museum is acting to strengthen the good relationship it has long maintained with scholarly institutions and colleagues in Cambodia and to foster and celebrate continued cooperation and dialogue between us," he said.