Police in Kandal province were searching for a group of thieves who stole an ancient statue of Buddha from a pagoda in Kandal Stung district late Saturday night, police said yesterday.
Police believe that at least three thieves entered Ang Punareay pagoda in Choeung Koeub commune sometime between Saturday night and Sunday morning and stole the 100-kg statue before escaping by motorcycle, according to provincial penal police chief Moeu Chantha.
A 15-year-old boy who was sleeping near the statue claimed to have witnessed the crime, Mr Chantha said. The boy said the robbers told him to close his eyes and threatened to shoot him if he moved, though police now believe the men were unarmed, Mr Chantha said.
“It is a big mistake that the monk chief did not inform the Ministry of Cults and Religions that their statue is ancient or move it to be kept in a museum,” he said.
The Buddha, made of bronze and copper and finished with gold and silver, was built in the reign of the pagoda’s first chief monk during the French colonial period more than a century ago, Choeung Koeub commune chief Bun Chamrong said.
During the Khmer Rouge era, the statue was hidden at the bottom of a muddy pond outside the pagoda and restored in 1984, Mr Chamrong said.
“In Pol Pot’s time we can save this statue, but now we can’t and it’s gone,” he said.
The theft follows a series of robberies at pagodas across Kandal province. Two traditional gongs were stolen from Toan On pagoda in Ang Snoul district on July 19, while a 40-kg Buddha statue was taken from Prey Pouch pagoda in the same district on July 6.
In a separate incident, 10 Buddha statues disappeared from Putseirey Ratneram pagoda in Stung Treng city last Friday night, according to Stung Treng City Police Chief Chhuok Komol. Police are investigating Mr Komol said.
Police yesterday declined to speculate on any possible connection between the thefts.
Contacted yesterday, Minister of Cults and Religions Min Khin said he had just been informed of the latest theft in Kandal province.
“I am researching this in order to have my colleagues investigate this matter,” he said.