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Monday, July 30, 2007

US returns ancient artifact stolen from Cambodia

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP): The U.S. government returned to Cambodia on Monday the head of an Angkor-era sculpture that had been stolen and smuggled out of the Southeast Asian country.

The artifact, weighing about two kilograms (4.4 pounds), is a sandstone head of a celestial dancer, or apsara, from the 12th century, the U.S. Embassy said in a statement Monday.

It said the object was smuggled out of Cambodia into the U.S. in violation of a 2003 agreement between the two countries that aims to protect Cambodia's cultural heritage. The statement did not say when the item was stolen.

U.S. law enforcement agents seized the artifact early this year, Jeff Daigle, an embassy spokesman said.

"The U.S. government is very determined to assist the Cambodian government in protecting and preserving its heritage,'' Ambassador Joseph Mussomeli said after a ceremony in which the artifact was officially returned.

"We're very grateful and happy that our police and our other law enforcement agencies are really focused on this issue.'' he said.

Him Chhem, acting minister of culture, thanked the U.S. government for returning the artifact.

Cambodia's centuries-old stone monuments, especially those in the ancient capital of Angkor, suffered extensive destruction from both nature and looters especially during times of war over the past three decades.

Many priceless pieces have ended up in the hands of private collectors overseas.
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Cambodia leases tourist islands for $627 million

PHNOM PENH – Cambodia has agreed to lease five islands in the Gulf of Thailand for $627 million to local and foreign investors who plan to build tourist resorts, the state investment agency said on Monday.
'The projects will become a magnet for tourism. These projects will create natural resorts which are popular with foreign tourists,' Commerce Minister Cham Prasidh said in a statement.

Cham Prasidh, who is also deputy chairman of the Council for the Development of Cambodia (CDC), said the six Cambodian companies that signed the long-term leases will have one year to submit detailed plans for the resorts.

It named the six firms, but did not disclose their foreign investors.

Cambodia's fast-growing tourism industry is seen as another sign of the former French colony's recovery from the destruction wrought by the Khmer Rouge during their four years in power from 1975 to 1979.

Cambodia attracted more than 1.7 million tourists last year, most of them drawn to the 800-year-old Angkor Wat temple complex. But it wants to lure beachgoers as well.

In September last year, a group of Russian investors received approval to build a $300 million tourist resort on Koh Pos (Snake Island) in the Gulf of Thailand.
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