Market in Khmer treasures booming
It is a trade that is as brazen as it is shadowy and shows no sign of changing.
Despite extensive new evidence of increased threats to Cambodia's Khmer temples and pledges of government crackdowns on both sides of the border, stroll into the right shopping mall in Bangkok and you can find hundreds of Cambodian antiquities for sale under one roof.
Sandstone heads, dancers and temple guardians dating from the 12th century can be found among the more recent Burmese lacquerware and Korean sea-chests in dozens of stores inside the swanky River City complex next to some of Bangkok's top international hotels.
Fakes exist but experts warn many are disturbingly authentic.
'Don't believe what you hear, we can get this out of the country for you, no problem,' said one shop assistant confidently as he offered one smiling Angkor-period figure for 1.2 million baht (HK$255,000).
Historians and elements of the international antiques trade are looking increasingly askance at River City dealers after signs that peace on the Cambodian-Thai border is bringing new threats to 1,200 Khmer monuments hidden across the country.
'We are only dealers. We buy from brokers and we can only believe what we are told,' one shop owner said.
'It is extremely difficult to prove exactly where a piece has come from and, frankly, many in the trade are able to exploit this.' Thai police and military officials on the border insist the trade has stalled while the Government's Fine Arts Department imposes a strict and complex licensing procedure for exports.
Department sources say they are aware their 'best efforts' are often not enough to stop the trade, warning of extensive use of false documentation.