Illicit Digging Continues at Buddha Site

Against authorities’ instructions, a Kompong Thom pagoda com­mittee is proceeding to build a new temple on the site of an an­cient one, possibly disturbing an important archaeological re­source in the process.

The Por Pech Pagoda Commit­tee plans to disregard instructions from the Ministry of Culture and the provincial Department of Re­ligion and go ahead laying foundations on the site in Baray district, Kompong Thom province, chief monk Nong Savath said on Thursday.

The new pagoda is being constructed on the site of a centuries-old temple, known as Vihear Bak, which was destroyed during Cam­­bo­dia’s war years. The site gained attention in August when 31 Buddha statues made of gold, silver and copper were unearthed there. Another copper statue, 25 centimeters high and weighing 1 kg, was found on Tuesday, the monk said.

“We will dig four more foundation holes on Monday on other parts of the ancient ruins,” Nong Savath said.

That would violate government orders, said Oung Von, director of the Heritage Department in the Ministry of Culture. He said the pagoda committee did not seek per­mission. “They have to find a new site,” he said. “The ministry will not allow them to build this pa­goda on [the site of] an ancient temple.”

He accused them of only wanting to excavate more sacred items, attracting followers to pray and donate money to the pagoda.

Oung Von said the pagoda committee could not protect the artifacts from thieves and environmental degradation. Nong Savath said 200 to 300 people come every day to pray at the monas­tery housing the Buddhas, donating 50,000 to 100,000 riel ($12.50 to $25) per day. The monk said he agreed with authorities who want to take the statues to Phnom Penh for safekeeping but was powerless to remove the objects, believed to bring happiness and good health to worshippers. “The villagers won’t relinquish them—they said we would have to take their lives before we take the statues.”

 

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