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.”