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New museum near Angkor Wat to show long-lost Buddhist statues

CBC, June 12, 2007

Phnom Penh, Cambodia -- A new museum showing 274 Buddhist statues will open in Cambodia this November near the spectacular temples of Angkor Wat.

<< Thousands of foreign tourists flock to the area housing the Angkor Wat temple in Cambodia's Siem Reap province each year. Thousands of foreign tourists flock to the area housing the Angkor Wat temple in Cambodia's Siem Reap province each year. (Tang Chin Sothy/AFP/Getty)

The statues, recovered from the jungle by a Japanese research team in 2001, date from the 11th to 13th centuries and are up to 1.2 metres in height.

The museum, being built with Japanese money, will be about one kilometre from Angkor Wat, a 12th-century temple, and near the capital of the ancient Khmer Empire, one of Cambodia's major tourist draws.

Japanese archeologists have been working for years to restore and rebuild the temple complexes near the modern-day town of Siem Reap, which were overgrown with jungle until the turn of the last century.

"By exhibiting the Buddhist statues, I hope the museum will be able to complement what is lacking in Angkor Wat, and that is to offer idols dating from ancient times," said Yoshiaki Ishizawa, leader of the Japanese research team and president of Tokyo's Sophia University.

The museum, with 1,820 square metres of floor space, will be donated to and run by Cambodia. Japanese firm Aeon has donated 130 million yen ($1.1 million Cdn) to the project.
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"What's important is that the Cambodian people preserve these national treasures with their own hands and proudly talk about them as their cultural heritage," Ishizawa said.

Angkor Wat is elaborately carved with the Hindu story of the Ramayana, but at some point Hindu worshippers co-existed with Buddhists and one of the temples of the old capital city is filled with images of the Buddha.

Cambodia is recovering from a civil war that tore the country apart in the 1970s and 1980s.

The museum may eventually add a library and create scholarships to educate Cambodian researchers.

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