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France Returns Stolen Apsara Sculpture

FRANCE: A sandstone bas-relief sculpture from the 12th or 13th century was returned to Cambodia after French customs authorities confiscated it from an auction house over three years ago.

The handover ceremony took place on September 4 in Lyon, where Cambodian Ambassador to France, Ket Sophann, accepted the repatriated sculpture from French customs and national security authorities. The sculpture was stolen in the early 1990s and was seized as part of an operation to inspect the site of an antique auction house in Lyon in February 2020.

This five-piece sandstone sculpture depicting an Apsara, or nymph, was created in the 12th or 13th century and weighs about 300 kilograms. Experts claim the sculpture possibly came from Preah Khan Temple in Kampong Svay or Banteay Chhmar Temple.

Ambassador Ket Sophann thanked the French authorities on behalf of the Royal Government and the people of Cambodia, saying that the ceremony reflected the excellent cooperation between Cambodia and France. He emphasized that the sculpture represents a part of history and a fragment of the soul of the Khmer Empire, and that its return would allow for the reunification of the national soul and the Khmer identity.

On September 5, the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts issued a proclamation banning art sellers on social media from using photographs of Cambodian artifacts to promote their business. The ministry said it will be taking legal action against those who break the new law.

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