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Religious Relics Stolen From Temples During The Vietnam War Returned To Thailand

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — Two stolen religious relics that had been on display at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco for years have been returned to Thailand during a repatriation ceremony.

Stolen Thai relic
(credit: Royal Thai Consulate-General Los Angeles)

The 1,500-pound, hand-carved sandstone slabs were exported from Thailand in violation of Thai law more than 50 years ago and later donated to San Francisco and displayed at its Asian Art Museum.

One was taken from the Nong Hong Sanctuary and is hand-carved with a picture of the Yama deity, while the lintel from Khao Loan Sanctuary depicts Indra deity on Kirtmukha, or the glorious face, according to the Royal Thai Consulate-General of Los Angeles. Photos show the lintels were previously installed as a part of architecure of the Nong Hong Sanctuary in Buriram Province and Khao Loan Sanctuary in Sa Kaew Province, respectively.

The religiously significant lintels are considered to be prime examples of the decorative lintel and material art traditions of Southeast Asian art. They are believed to have been illegally exported from Thailand during the Vietnam War.

Stolen Thai relic
(credit: Royal Thai Consulate-General Los Angeles)

Tuesday's repatriation ceremony included Thai dancers and prayers. It took place in Los Angeles, which boasts the largest Thai population in the United States and is where the Thai consulate is located. The lintels, which date back to the 11th century Lopburi period, will ultimately be placed on exhibition in Thailand.

"The theft and trafficking of cultural artifacts is a tradition as old as the cultures they represent," Tatum King, special agent in charge of HSI San Francisco, said in a statement. "Returning a nation's precious cultural antiquities promotes goodwill with foreign governments and citizens, while significantly protecting the world's cultural history and knowledge of past civilizations."

Agents with Homeland Security Investigations learned of the relics' illegal exportation from Thailand in 2017, making them forfeitable under federal law. The U.S. reached a settlement in February with the city and county of San Francisco, which agreed to forfeit the Thai lintels.

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