Two Buddha statues at the center of a dispute between a chief monk and authorities attempting to seize the figures will stay at the Kandal pagoda where they were found, after officials agreed to entrust villagers with their care.
The Culture and Fine Arts Ministry first became aware of the existence of the relics when photographs were circulated online last week. Officials repeatedly visited Preah Neak pagoda in Ang Snuol district’s Chhak Chhoeu Neang commune and asked to take the statues to Phnom Penh’s National Museum.
Commune chief Sim Nang said last week that Mao Sreng, the pagoda’s first deputy chief monk, had initially given officials permission to take the statues, but later changed his mind.
Now it appears that officials have had a change of heart.
Kur Hok, deputy director of the provincial culture and fine arts department, said on Monday that his office had agreed to a request from villagers to keep the statues at the pagoda so they could be accessed by local worshippers.
“It’s up to them. They want to keep” the statues, he said.
The figures, estimated to be about 500 years old, had been displayed in the pagoda’s dining hall, but were locked away by the former chief monk after he heard they could be extremely valuable.
Ms. Nang said on Monday that villagers had offered to keep overnight watch on the statues.
Noch Yan, a monk who has lived at the pagoda for more than 20 years, said the statues—made of gold, copper and bronze, and weighing more than 80 kg each—were of significant cultural value to the community.
“I am happy that the statutes will remain in the pagoda, because they are our ancestral heritage,” he said.
“We don’t want the statues to be taken care of by other people—we don’t know how safe they would be.”
Noch Yan said villagers willing to guard the relics would be rostered over three shifts every night, though he was uncertain how long their enthusiasm would last and incentives might be needed.
“We will use approaches to encourage them to continue. In the future we might give them money,” he said.