A Ministry of Cult and Religious Affairs investigation team has determined that a group of young Christian boys did not knock the heads off of several Buddha statues in Kompong Thom province’s Baray district over the Khmer New Year holiday, officials said Thursday.
The boys, aged 10 to 14, were stopped and questioned by police on Saturday near the Wat Baray Chon Dek, where four of the temple’s half-meter high statues of Buddha had been damaged, said Baray district police Chief Mey Chhem on Monday.
Police released the boys after questioning them because they were too young to be arrested, Mey Chhem said.
News of the alleged attack—which was reported with photographs in leading Khmer-language newspapers—had stirred up religious tensions in the predominantly Buddhist area, and some residents had threatened to attack the nearby Christian church in retaliation.
Police had urged calm until the government’s investigation was completed.
Undersecretary of State Phlork Phan, who led the government investigation team, said that more statues would have sustained damage if the boys had actually attacked them with the sticks. He suggested that the statues hadn’t been attacked but were just old.
“The statues were old,” Phlork Phan said. “They are old, broken statues.”
While the boys admitted to police that they had been carrying the sticks, they denied playing any role in the attack.
Secretary of State of the Ministry of Cult and Religious Affairs Chhorn Iem said the ministry had initially directed its investigation team to make the boys kneel before the damaged statues to ask for forgiveness in order to appease villagers who were angry over the attack.
That order was not carried out after it was determined that no witnesses saw the boys damage the statues.