Siem Reap military police arrested nine soldiers and seized tons of stolen artifacts in two arrests last week, police and conservation officials said Tuesday.
Eleven stone bas-reliefs, dating to the 12th century, were seized Thursday in Srei Snam district and six RCAF soldiers transporting them in a pickup truck were arrested following a high-speed chase, said Military Police Deputy Chief Prak Chanthoeun.
Three days later, in Puok district, police stopped a Jeep driven by three soldiers headed for Banteay Meanchey province—the usual route for stolen antiquities—and found two stone lion carvings, Prak Chanthoeun said.
The antiquities, taken from Kompong Thom and Preah Vihear provinces, were believed to be headed for Thailand, Angkor Conservation Director Kang Vorn said Monday. The suspects are in jail in Siem Reap and the artifacts are with conservation authorities in Siem Reap.
Poverty and corruption have fueled artifact thefts. Furthermore, Siem Reap officials said Monday, the upcoming polls have diverted the authorities’ attention from smuggling.
Prak Chanthoeun also blamed a lack of checkpoints for the police’s inability to crack down on smugglers. Checkpoints were removed by orders of Second Prime Minister Hun Sen following the factional fighting in July.
Prak Chanthoeun said that because Siem Reap province is a major route for smugglers taking artifacts to markets in Thailand, checkpoints need to be reestablished if thieves are to be stopped.