Commune Chief Allows Mound Excavation

A commune chief in Banteay Meanchey province’s O’Chrou district has given artifact hunters per­mis­sion to dig up what they believe to be ancient burial mounds in search of decorative beads.

Chhit Soch, chief of Sophy commune, said Wednesday that the hunt­ers came to him seeking per­mis­sion to scour for artifacts, which he granted, partly because the area in question was on private property.

“If it was a temple, I would not have allowed them to dig,” he said. “But the landowner agreed to let them do it.”

Chhit Soch said that the site is just farmland and doesn’t have any artifacts. However, he be­lieves the hunters’ real aim is to un­earth gold buried during the Khmer Rouge regime.

“I ordered the police to investigate,” he said. “If the men find [Khmer Rouge] gold, we will take some for commune development.” He added that the digging stopped re­­cently after a reporter from a local newspaper visited the ar­t­ifact hunters.

District deputy police chief Sorm Sophin denied that the ex­cavation was a hunt for antiquities, claiming that the men were simply digging an artificial pond.

Prak Bireak, a staffer for the NGO Heritage Watch, said that, re­gardless of the men’s intent, dig­ging for ancient beads—which villagers can sell for $25 to $50 apiece—is a major problem in the province.

Chuch Phoeun, secretary of state at the Ministry of Culture, said that the permission of the com­mune chief was not sufficient to al­low the men to excavate for art­ifacts. By law, nobody can lay claim to items found in the soil more than 50 centimeter be­low the surface, even if found on private property, he added.

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