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U.S. museum returns Hanuman statue to Cambodia

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PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - A U.S. museum returned a 10th century statue of the Hindu monkey god Hanuman to Cambodia on Tuesday, saying research suggested it had probably been taken from the gate of an ancient temple complex.

The Cleveland Museum of Art said it was voluntarily returning the stone figure with a human body and a monkey’s head and tail, which it acquired in 1982 from an art dealer in New York who had since died.

Khmer ballet dancers threw flowers for good luck at the handover ceremony, attended by Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister Sok An and dozens of ministers in Phnom Penh. Officials hung flower garlands around the statue’s neck.

“I am sure that if Hanuman were alive we would see a smile on his face showing his joy at being here among us where he belongs,” Sok An said after signing handover papers with Cleveland Museum of Art Director William Griswold.

The statue joins five others from the northern Koh Ker region recently returned to Cambodia from the United States.

The Cleveland museum said research had found the statue’s head and body had been offered for sale in Thailand in 1968 and 1972. Experts said it had probably come from the east gate of the Prasat Chen temple complex.

Reporting By Reuters Television in Phnom Penh; Writing by Marie-Louise Gumuchian in London; Editing by Andrew Heavens