Monks to March to Odong Over Stolen Relics

Dissident monks will march from Phnom Penh to Odong mountain early next month as part of a protest against the failure of authorities to recover the country’s only relics of the Buddha, which were stolen earlier this month, prominent monk But Buntenh said Tuesday.

But Buntenh, the head of the Independent Monks’ Network for Social Justice, said that protests against the unexplained theft of the relics from a stupa at Odong mountain on December 10 would take place in three phases.

“The first plan: We will march from Phnom Penh to the Preah Reach Trap [Odong] mountain, where the Buddhist relics were stolen. The second plan: We will protest to take down Min Khin as Minister of Cults and Religion. The third plan: We will protest in front of the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts,” But Buntenh said.

He added that the dates of the protests had yet to be scheduled.

On December 17, monks led by But Buntenh besieged a meeting of senior Buddhist clergy at the Chaktomuk Conference Hall, demanding that Great Supreme Patriarch Tep Vong call on the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen to take action over the theft.

Clergy from both the Mohanikaya and Dhammayuttika sects of Cambodian Buddhism distributed statements the following day calling on the government to investigate the theft and recover the relics.

Khim Sorn, the chief of the Mohanikaya secretariat who had negotiated with But Buntenh to end the dissident monks’ siege on Chaktomuk hall last week, said that clergy had received no new information from authorities since five suspects were arrested on December 15.

Kandal Provincial Court investigating Judge Lim Sokuntha said that the investigation was proving difficult.

“Police and the court have worked hard to investigate this night and day, but we have not gotten anything significant on the case. All five suspects have denied the taking of those things or their involvement,” he said.

Judge Sokuntha added that he hoped further questioning would provide a lead, and said police at border crossings had received instructions to strengthen their monitoring to prevent the relics from leaving Cambodia.

Officials at both the Bavet checkpoint on the Vietnamese border in Svay Rieng province and at the Cham Yeam checkpoint on the Thai border in Koh Kong province said they had yet to receive any such orders.

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