Beheaded Buddhas May Mark Religious Tension

Police questioned four boys ac­cused of knocking the heads off se­veral Buddha statues in Kom­pong Thom province’s Baray district over the Khmer New Year holiday.

Baray district police Chief Mey Chhem said Monday that the boys, aged 10 to 14, were stopped on Sat­urday near Wat Baray Chon Dek, where four of the temple’s half-me­ter high Buddha statues were de­stroyed. The boys were re­leased af­ter questioning because they were too young to be arrested, he said.

Police believe the four were among a group of 11 Christian boys from a church located in the predominantly Buddhist Tras village, about half a kilometer from the temple.

Mey Chhem said the boys had just finished a weekly prayer meeting at the church before villagers reported the attack occurring in­side the temple. He said villagers re­ported spotting the boys carrying long wooden sticks.

Though the boys confessed to police that they had been carrying the sticks, they denied de­stroying the statues, Mey Chhem said.

Adhoc provincial coordinator Hor Neath confirmed Tuesday that one 13-year-old suspect was a member of the Christian church, but said he could not speculate whe­ther the destruction of the Bud­dhist statues was linked to any re­ligious conflict.

“We cannot reach a conclusion,” Hor Neath said. “The police investigation is still going on.”

News of the vandalism, however, is spreading quickly, and is an­ger­ing villagers, Hor Neath said. Some villagers have warned that they would attack a nearby Chris­tian church in retaliation, but po­lice have urged people to keep calm, he said.

Mey Chhem agreed the damage to the statues is stoking discord among the villagers.

“The villagers were so angry with the attack,” he said. “Police told them not to react toward the children.”



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