Police in Siem Reap City are searching for a group of “leftists” who allegedly burned an archway built for the Angkor Sangkranta New Year festival that had drawn public scorn for being of a Vietnamese or Chinese style instead of Cambodian.
According to police, the archway, built over an entrance to the Angkor temple complex in bright red and yellow and adorned with hanging red lanterns, caught fire at about 2 a.m. Tuesday.
Deputy provincial police chief Thong Sokhun said officers questioned six people over the incident and let them go but did not say why.
“Provincial penal police questioned six people who were near where the incident took place, but we let them go home,” Mr. Sokhun said, adding that a special team from Phnom Penh was now assisting with the investigation.
“There is a working group from the National Police Commissariat that went to help investigate this case,” he said. “We are investigating through Facebook, too.”
The Angkor Sangkranta archway was built and decorated by members of the Union of Youth Federations of Cambodia (UYFC), which is headed by Hun Many, a CPP lawmaker for Kompong Speu province and the son of Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Mr. Sokhun said the archway’s design was approved by the Apsara Authority, a government body that manages the Angkor Archaeological Park, and that the arsonists struck because they had “different thinking.”
“Those who burned it are leftists,” he said, adding that the archway was erected about a week ago and had not been previously vandalized.
On Monday, Thy Sovantha, a popular anti-government activist and social media commentator, posted a photo of the archway to her Facebook page, complete with a photoshopped image of her in front of the structure giving it a disapproving thumbs down.
The post garnered more than 35,000 “likes” and hundreds of comments, many of them racially tinged.
On Saturday, Khmer Sovannaphumi, a staunch nationalist with thousands of Facebook followers, posted a photo of the archway with the following message: “Please share and distribute urgently to make Khmer children aware of this problem and demand that the Hun family remove it immediately.
“Then we will know clearly: If they remove it, it means they still have some respect for the Cambodian owners of this country. If they don’t remove it, they have Yuon brains, destroy Khmer, and serve the Yuon,” the message continues, using a term for Vietnamese people that can be derogatory.
However, Som Ratana, a spokesman for the Angkor Sangkranta festival and a member of the UYFC, said the archway’s design had been cleared by experts—he refused to specify who they were—and that burning it was an insult to Cambodian tradition.
“To burn the gates to Angkor Sangkranta is to trample Cambodian culture and civilization,” he said. “We asked the experts already and they confirmed that this is real Khmer style.”
Despite defending the design of the archway, Mr. Ratana said that in response to the criticism, Mr. Many, the prime minister’s son, visited the site on Monday and requested that it be redecorated.
“As we are Khmer family we don’t want to upset anyone, so we decided to redecorate it,” he said.