Anger Over Stolen Buddha Relics Grows on Social Media

With no progress yet toward solving the theft of the country’s only relics of the Buddha from the former Royal capital at Odong in Kandal province, hundreds of people have taken to social media to voice their anger.

On Tuesday at about 2 a.m., the relics—said to be hair, teeth and bones of the Buddha—were reported stolen by guards working at Odong.

Several police and government officials declined to comment on the ongoing investigation Friday, but Ponhea Leu district police said that six of a total of about 10 guards who were tasked to protect the ancient hill and stupas at Odong were still being questioned.

“Six guards of the Buddhist stupa were sent to Kandal provincial police headquarters for questioning, but they were not released yet,” deputy district police chief Seng Srang said, before declining to comment further.

On Tuesday, Phoeung Sakona, minister of culture, sent a letter to Prime Minister Hun Sen and several government officials informing them of the theft.

Several small, golden Buddha statues had been stolen along with Buddha relics, Mr. Sakona said.

“[The thieves] walked up to the top and stole a golden urn containing Buddha relics and seven small Buddha statues,” he wrote.

The relics had been transported from Sri Lanka to Cambodia in the 1950s to mark the 2,500th anniversary of Buddha’s birth.

From 1989 on, they were kept at a stupa in front of the Phnom Penh railway station until they were moved in 2002 to Odong by then-King Norodom Sihanouk following the completion of an elaborate $4.5 million stupa to house the artifacts.

Norodom Sihanouk personally officiated at the move of the relics to Odong in 2002, accompanied by Prime Minister Hun Sen, as hundreds of thousands lined the streets.

Anger at the theft of the national heirlooms was expressed online Thursday and Friday.

“Monks and people will hold a demonstration to ask the Prime Minister [Hun Sen] to find the Buddha relics and bring them back, because Buddha relics are important for all Cambodian people,” Thy Sovantha, a CNRP youth leader posted to her Facebook account, I Love Cambodia Hot News, late Thursday.

She did not give a timeframe for the demonstration.

Dozens of I Love Cambodia Hot News followers commented to voice their outrage over the stolen relics.

“I feel regret for the Buddha relic that was lost. All the fault lies with the illegitimate government,” Pin Sovichet wrote, while numerous users said that the stupa housing the relics should have been better protected.

“The leaders of the government could not protect the Buddha relics, how could they protect the country? Stupid leaders, please resign,” Tob Moeun wrote in another online comment.

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