Eight Charged, Jailed Over Gateway Arson

Eight men who were arrested last week for their alleged involvement in the arson of a decorative gateway built for the Angkor Sankranta New Year festival in Siem Reap City were charged Friday and sent to the provincial prison, officials said Sunday.

After the Union of Youth Federations of Cambodia (UYFC)— a youth group headed by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s son Hun Many—built the gate, Cambodian Facebook users complained that its style had too much Vietnamese and Chinese influence. In the early hours of Tuesday, it was set on fire.

Police said last week that six men were questioned over the incident on Tuesday but released later that day. On Thursday, police said they arrested another seven men on Wednesday.

Pheong Chenda Reth, chief of the provincial police’s minor crimes bureau, said Sunday that eight men had been sent to the provincial prison after being charged, and referred further questions to his boss, provincial police chief Sort Nady.

“My superior does not allow me to comment on this, so please contact him yourself,” Mr. Chenda Reth said.

Reached by phone, Mr. Nady hung up on a reporter.

Penh Rith, head of the provincial prison’s transport office, which oversees the transfer of prisoners to and from the facility, said the eight men arrived at 6 p.m. on Friday.

“Now they are being detained at the prison in pretrial detention,” he said.

Mr. Rith said his department received a transfer order from provincial court Investigating Judge Chhun Chan Seyha stating that one of the men had been charged with intentional damage under aggravating circumstances and using “dangerous means,” while the others had been charged with collusion.

Chao Leak Vanna, a monitor for rights group Licadho in Siem Reap, said that six of the eight men charged were those originally questioned Tuesday, while the other two were arrested Wednesday and Thursday.

Pol Phort, 39, the wife of one of the accused, Chuob Cham, 41, said her husband was working as a security guard at the Doeum Kralanh market at the time of the fire.

“[Police] called my husband for questioning about the case and he has since been arrested,” she said.

According to Som Ratana, spokesman for the Angkor Sankranta festival, the gateway was rebuilt late last week, but he would not say whether the new design could be considered more Khmer.

“Everyone is happy that the archway is renovated, making it more beautiful,” he said. “I think we should not talk about it anymore.”

In photos posted to UYFC’s Facebook page, the new gate has a more subdued color scheme, replacing bright red and yellow with maroon.

Two goat statues are still perched atop the gate, but are now flanked by golden umbrellas, symbols of the Cambodian monarchy.

(Additional reporting by Chris Mueller)

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