Looting of ancient graves in Oddar Meanchey province’s Banteay Ampil district has been occurring since at least 2004, a cultural official said Monday, and it is happening on a surprisingly wide scale.
Nim Son, deputy director of the Angkor Conservation administration office in Siem Reap province, said villagers have dug pits up to 10 meter deep to loot the graves.
An area covering about 100 meters by 1.5 km has been illegally excavated, and at least two more sites in the district are also being looted, he said.
Banteay Ampil district police confirmed that some local villagers were detained two weeks ago for illegally excavating the graves. The officials said the villagers were educated, not jailed, because they are poor and have no jobs.
“Their farms also face drought,” Nim Son said. “I think the villagers do not understand the value [of historical sites].”
Nim Son said he was told of the looting on Sept 3 while he was visiting Banteay Chhmar temple in the district. He then informed local authorities to stop the digging, explaining to them that it was an important cultural and historical site.
Nim Son said he was waiting for an official and scientific excavation to date the site. He added that bones from the site, previously scattered across the ground, had been carefully collected and placed in a shelter by one of the villagers.
Nim Son is preparing an official report for the Ministry of Culture, he said.
Chuch Phoeurn, secretary of state for the Ministry of Culture and an archaeologist, said the ministry must wait for Nim Son’s report before it can take any action.