London: Two major British museums are opening up their collections to archaeologists and officials from Cambodia, in response to allegations that valuable items are sitting illegally in the UK.
The first visit is to the Victoria & Albert Museum on Friday, followed by one to the British Museum next week, BBC reported.
Cambodia wants the UK to help recover antiquities it says were stolen from its temples during years of conflict.
Both museums have said they are transparent about the origin of items.
The Cambodian delegation hopes to discuss the provenance of objects in the two collections and to examine them in person, the BBC said.
“The challenge for us is that we have been doing our research from long distance, just looking at what is publicly available on the museums’ websites,” says Brad Gordon, the head of Cambodia’s investigations team. “For example, we are not able to see the objects from different angles.”
The Cambodians believe that the British Museum, the UK’s largest, could have dozens of items in storage that were taken out of their country without permission and then acquired by the museum, as late as the early 1990s.
The Cambodians believe ancient statues hold the souls of their ancestors. By speaking to former looters and tracing shipping and sales records, they’ve determined that many of the stolen works passed through the hands of a rogue British art dealer, Douglas Latchford, who died in 2020, the BBC said.
The British Museum is believed to have approximately 100 Cambodian pieces, though all appear to be in storage. The V&A is thought to have more than 50 items; a fraction of them on display.
Much of the looting took place over a three-decade period of civil war and strife. The murderous Khmer Rouge regime held power from 1975 to 1979, when it is thought to have killed more than two million of its own people, and the group controlled large portions of Cambodia until the late 1990s.