Police on Guard Against Hunt for Khmer Rouge Treasure

Police have been called in to guard a reservoir in Battambang province after rumors about the existence of Khmer Rouge-era riches buried in the area prompted treasure hunters to start digging for the trove last week.

Kamping Puoy reservoir, which was built using slave labor during the Pol Pot regime, resulting in tens of thousands of deaths, has long been rumored to conceal a cache of buried treasure, officials say.

Deputy provincial police chief Chet Vanny said Tuesday that 10 officers—six from the provincial police and four from Banan district—have been deployed near the site of a half-meter-deep hole found on October 22 underneath a shelter used by visitors and believed to have been dug by treasure hunters.

“[They are] observing and protecting that area 24 hours a day in order to stop bad people from digging there,” he said.

Im Bunyou, the chief of Ta Kream commune, said people regularly visited the reservoir to search for clues about the location of the rumored haul, and that on October 22 food vendors spotted a group acting suspiciously in the area, prompting the police response.

But district police chief Buth Sambo said the hole was dug by the owner of the shelter to store trash. He added that his officers had been patrolling the reservoir, an area popular with tourists, for the past decade.

Provincial court prosecutor Nuon San said authorities from different levels of government should work together to search for the rumored riches and put any discovery on display.

“Personally, I think there should be a committee to inspect the area and to get rid of all doubts,” he said, an idea echoed by several other officials interviewed Tuesday.

Sor Chandeth, a Sam Rainsy Party senator, said he had been told that high-ranking officials from the province were responsible for the recent digging.

“If [officials] are doing it secretly, this is illegal because authorities should protect the assets of the people and state,” he said.

In May, opposition lawmaker Mu Sochua visited Battambang City’s Old Bridge to investigate reports that Vietnamese men had been seen digging for treasure there.

Last year, six Vietnamese nationals were arrested in the provincial capital for digging up an ammunition box filled with gold they buried there 30 years ago, when they were stationed in Cambodia fighting against the Khmer Rouge.

sony@cambodiadaily.com

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