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Momentum gains to unite ancient Cambodian statues

By Justine Drennan

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, Dec. 21 2013 8:46 a.m. MST

As a result of the attention generated by the Koh Ker statues' return, "Cambodia is learning more about the plunder of its past, and doing more to protect it in the future," said Tess Davis, a lawyer who focuses on the illicit trade of Cambodian antiquities.

Meanwhile, representatives from the Norton Simon Museum will visit Cambodia at the end of January or early February, said Chan Tani, a senior government official. Leslie Denk, the museum's director of public affairs, confirmed the visit.

Interest in the statues has also prompted more archaeological research of Koh Ker, which was briefly the center of the great Khmer Empire after King Jayavarman IV moved the capital from Angkor in 928 until 944. Until now it's received far less attention than Angkor's better-preserved temples 110 kilometers (70 miles) southwest.

Coming after largely static scenes in bas-relief at Angkor, the Prasat Chen statues are key examples of the Koh Ker style's new dynamism — rare freestanding statues, with Duryodhana and Bhima portrayed as they prepare to leap into combat.

These unique aspects of Koh Ker art are something the new museum hopes to highlight in the future, said Long Kosal, the tourism director for Preah Vihear province. Although officials say they need more time to make sure the site is secure, their ultimate plan is to place the tableau's statues together in a hall that mirrors the size and shape of their original tower.

"The idea is to give the public the feeling of entering the original space" — and which pieces are still missing, said Philippe Delanghe, a culture specialist with UNESCO.

As for the four missing figures, experts and officials have failed to locate any records for one and have traced the other three to past auction catalogs but don't know their current owners.

"People or private institutions in any part of the world who are unlawfully holding Cambodian statues — they do not fully understand what the statue means, so why should they hold the statue? What is the point?" said the government's Ek Tha.

"One day I hope, and I'm still hoping until this hour, that these statues will be reunited — like a family reunion."

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