Monks Gather to Pray for Return of Stolen Buddha Relics

More than 100 monks gathered Monday at the stupa on Odong mountain in Kandal province to pray for the safe return of the country’s only relics of the Buddha, which were stolen without a trace last week.

The monks included Buddhist leaders from all 24 provinces and Phnom Penh, according to the Venerable Khim Sorn, chief of the secretariat of the Mohanikaya Buddhist order.

“The monks walked around the stupa nine times and then they meditated for 40 minutes to remind the bad people who stole the golden urn and Buddha statues to bring those things back to the stupa,” Khim Sorn said.

Government authorities on Monday declined to say if they had any new leads on the whereabouts of the stolen artifacts, despite having arrested five men for the robbery on Sunday.

Officials have also yet to explain how the five are linked to the theft of the relics—said to be hair, teeth and bones of the Buddha—apart from having been employed as security guards at the purpose-built stupa when the robbery occurred on December 10.

Kandal Provincial Court director In Vanvibol identified the five suspects, who are charged with aggravated theft, as Pha Sokhem, 59, who was head of security at the stupa and a former chief of the Ponhea Leu district office of culture and fine arts, along with four stupa security guards: Chorm Thai, 57; Sieng Sarin, 58; Ka Sak, 46; and Kann Sopheak, 39.

During a press conference Monday announcing the pending return from New York of an Angkorian statue looted from Koh Ker temple in the 1970s, Deputy Prime Minister Sok An said that the government was working on tracking down the relics of the Buddha that were looted under its own watch last week.

“You see the competent authorities now are working very actively, and when you see their work is under process I do not want to make any comment,” Mr. An said.

“I can assure you the competent authorities are working very actively on this very important issue,” he said.

Tong Siny, Ponhea Leu district governor, said that police and local authorities had searched the houses of the five detained suspects, but he did not know if they had discovered any evidence linking the men to the stolen relics.

Police said on Sunday that they had found more than 20 statuettes of the Buddha inside Mr. Sokhem’s house, but have not given any information linking those statues to the stolen artifacts.

“I don’t know whether those Buddha statues that were found in Pha Sokhem’s house were involved with the Buddha relics stolen from the stupa or not,” Mr. Siny said.

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