Authorities are attempting to seize two Buddha statues estimated to be about 500 years old after photographs of the relics locked up at a pagoda in Kandal province went viral on Facebook last week.
Sim Nang, chief of Ang Snuol district’s Chhak Chhoeu Neang commune, said officials from the Culture and Fine Arts Ministry had repeatedly visited Preah Neak pagoda since Monday asking to take the statues to Phnom Penh’s National Museum.
The statues are made of gold, copper and bronze, with one weighing 80.5 kg and the other 85.2 kg, said Noch Yan, a monk who has stayed at the pagoda for more than 20 years. Elderly villagers have told him there used to be a third statue, and the three were “like brothers,” he said.
Ms. Nang said the ministry officials had listened to villagers’ concerns, and had briefly received approval to take the statues from first deputy chief monk Mao Sreng, who has been serving as the pagoda’s leader since the chief died in March.
“I don’t know the reason why he changed his mind, but [now] he wants villagers to worship the statues at the pagoda,” she said.
Kur Hok, deputy director of the provincial culture and fine arts department, said a resolution had yet to be reached between the ministry and pagoda.
“We must make a proper request. We can’t just do it,” he said, declining to comment further “because it’s ongoing.”
Ms. Nang, the commune chief, said the two statues had been displayed in the pagoda’s dining hall for many years, but the chief monk locked them away in his room after hearing they could be extremely valuable. After he died, there was debate among local worshippers about what to do with them.
“Some people want the statues to be displayed at the National Museum. Some villagers feel suspicious that someone might take them out and sell them,” she said. “It is about mistrust among each other.”
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