Four Vietnamese Arrested for Building Illegal Stupas, Statues

Four Vietnamese men were sent to the Interior Ministry’s immigration department in Phnom Penh for deportation on Sunday after being arrested in Siem Reap province for building religious statues and shrines without permission, officials said Monday.

Deputy provincial police chief Kann Sambath said the four Vietnamese nationals, arrested on May 28, were construction workers living in the country illegally and did not have permission to build the religious statues on a private plot of land in Svay Loeu district.

“Those Vietnamese are being detained at the general department of immigration and they are accused of not having passports while illegally building a stupa in our country,” he said.

Yann Ngi, director of the district department of cults and religion, said authorities arrested the four Vietnamese men after receiving complaints from local residents about the statues of a goddess spirit.

Mr. Ngi said he did not know if legal action would be taken against Chum Nhev, 50, the Cambodian woman who with her husband owns the land on which the statues were being built.

“They have built statues and stupas on the land they bought in 2011. They hired some Vietnamese to build the temple and suddenly our villagers reported it and then we went there and raided it,” he said.

“Now we are keeping those statues and stupas and waiting for orders from the provincial director of cults and religion or the governor to decide what we should do with them,” Mr. Ngi said.

He added that two Cambodians were also found on the land with the Vietnamese workers, but said they were not arrested because they were only acting as security guards.

Svay Loeu district governor Si Bunsim said that local authorities would have taken action sooner if they had known about the construction of the statues and shrines, which began in February.

“They built it far away…so it was difficult for us to reach, sometimes we need reports from villagers although we continue to patrol,” he said.

The raid in Siem Reap comes less than two months after the Royal Cambodian Navy led about 60 local officials in a raid of a Vietnamese religious shrine on Koh Kapi island in Koh Kong province.

Some 60 officials burned down statues and shrines that had been built on the island and ordered seven Vietnamese monks, who were living near the shrine and had valid Cambodian visas, to return to the mainland.

The opposition CNRP also began a campaign earlier this year to have authorities in Kampot province shut down a religious shrine on Bokor Mountain that they claimed was frequented by Vietnamese tourists.

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