Remarks by Ambassador William Heidt at the Signing Ceremony with the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts

National Museum, Phnom Penh
Tuesday, November 6, 2018
(as prepared for delivery)

Good afternoon colleagues from the media.  Thank you for all for coming out today.

I would like to begin by thanking our distinguished guests for their presence here today:  H.E. Dr. Phoeurng Sackona, the Minister of Culture and Fine Arts; H.E. Kim Sedara, President of the National Authority of Preah Vihear; and Mr. Kong Vireak, Director of the National Museum of Cambodia.

I’m also very happy to see the Secretary of State at the Ministry and my good friend H.E. Chuch Phoeurn here today.  During the past three years, he and I have signed a few documents together as well.

This ceremony today is a testament to the longstanding and productive relationship between the United States and the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts.  We will be signing two important cultural documents today that, together, illustrate the breadth and importance of that relationship.

The first document we will sign is a $200,000 grant under our Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation (AFCP) to the National Authority of Preah Vihear (NAPV) for restoration of the front staircase of that wonderful temple.  This project will fund a number of emergency measures to address extensive erosion and destabilization of the staircase, as well as an assessment of its future conservation and restoration needs.

As a founding member of the International Coordinating Committee (ICC) for Preah Vihear, we are excited to announce this first-ever award by the U.S. government for preserving this temple.

In addition to stabilizing and repairing the staircase, this project will help Cambodian workers improve their knowledge and restoration skills.  That will speed up the day when Cambodia has the capacity and expertise to lead conservation efforts at the thousands of historical sites around the country.

The Ambassador’s fund is an important and valuable program for Cambodia.  During my assignment in Phnom Penh, Cambodia has received grants from the Ambassador’s fund to preserve the clothing of victims at the Tuol Sleng Mueseum, improve programming for the Angkor Borei Museum in Takeo, and continue the remarkable restoration of the Phnom Bakheng temple at Angkor park.

I’m very proud that the Phnom Bakheng restoration project is the largest Ambassador’s fund project anywhere in the world.  We have contributed more than $3.2 million of U.S. Government funds to this project since 2004, contributions that have in turn catalyzed many additional millions in donations from the private sector and philanthropic communities in the United States.

The second document we will sign is a five-year extension of the Memorandum of Understanding between the United States and Cambodia concerning “the Imposition of Import Restrictions on Categories of Archeological Material of Cambodia.”

This is a very technical name, but the MOU’s objective is actually very simple.  It provides an official, government-to-government channel for the return of stolen artifacts and other cultural property to Cambodia.  By providing that channel, the MOU discourages looting at Cambodia’s wonderful historical sites, and ensures that looted artifacts are returned to Cambodia.

The first five years of the MOU have been a significant success.  More than 20 historical artifacts have been returned to Cambodia under the MOU, including important statues from the Koh Ker temple complex.  I myself have attended hand-over ceremonies for returned objects from the Cleveland Museum of Art and the Denver Art Museum.

You can go see the returned statues here in the National Museum.  They are wonderful symbols of our cooperation that are helping ensure that Cambodia’s culture is preserved and accessible to Cambodians for generations.

[Just as important, the MOU also provides a framework for the temporary loans of Cambodian cultural artifacts to American museums and other cultural institutions.  This is good for both Cambodia and the United States, because through loans of Cambodian artifacts, thousands of Americans have received opportunity to witness Cambodia’s wonderful culture and history first hand.]

These projects would not have been so successful without strong collaboration with the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts.  I want to particularly thank the Minister in particular for her leadership and vision, which has allowed us to expand and build upon our previous cooperation.

At the end of this month I am going to conclude my assignment in Cambodia and return to the United States.  I’ve worked on many different issues these past three years, but none have given me as much satisfaction as helping Cambodia preserve its cultural property and returning looted antiquities back home where they belong.  This record of cooperation is something all Americans and Cambodians should be proud of.

Madame Minister, working with you and your team has been an honor and a privilege, and will be something I will cherish from my time as Ambassador.

Thank you all once again.