Pailin Monks Hold Off Govt Attempt to Excavate Alleged Cache of KR Era Gold

Some 100 monks and villagers in Pailin province faced off with armed military police over the weekend attempting to dig up a suspected cache of Khmer Rouge-era gold on the grounds of Wat Korng Kang, provincial and pagoda officials said yesterday.

“On Saturday and [Sunday] many armed military policemen came to the pagoda to dig up the gold, but our monks protected it and did not allow it,” said Nhim Sothon, the pagoda’s deputy chief monk.

Provincial governor Y Chen said authorities were told about the alleged gold by its owner, but refused to reveal his name.

“Someone reported that a ton of gold belonging to the Khmer Rouge regime was buried at the pagoda, but we are not sure yet because we can’t dig it up because the monks rallied against our military police and police,” he said.

Mr Chen said he did not understand the community’s resistance to the excavation.

“It is not a secret [operation] because if we find anything all the gold will become state property,” he said. “Why do the monks rally against my order? I helped to rebuild this pagoda.”

Sam Cheng, a local villager, said authorities left behind an excavator after abandoning the scene late Sunday morning, but only after they used their weapons to threaten locals who tried to aid the besieged monks.

“Some of the soldiers pointed their guns at villagers who wanted to bring food to the monks,” he said.

In an open letter issued yesterday, SRP lawmaker Mu Sochua condemned the authorities’ alleged show of force during the standoff.

“The systematic use of violence and threat by government officials and military police on our venerable monks who are defending the treasure buried on the pagoda grounds clearly points to the unlimited power of the state over what we, as Buddhists, consider as most sacred,” the statement reads.

She said any excavation must be carried out with guidance from the central government and the participation of the community.

Mr Sothon, the pagoda’s deputy chief monk, identified the owner of the alleged cache of gold as Thay Khon. According to the monk, Mr Khon showed up at the pagoda sometime last year, identified himself as a former Khmer Rouge fighter, and asked permission to dig up between 40 kg and 50 kg of gold he had buried at the site during the regime. Mr Sothon said the pagoda refused.

 

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