Tourist Wanted for Breaking Buddha Statue

The Apsara Authority and local police are searching for a tourist from New Zealand accused of breaking a statue of the Buddha inside Bayon temple at Angkor Archaeological Park last week, according to a statement issued by the Apsara Authority on Sunday.

The tourist, Willemijn Vermaat, 40, went missing inside Bayon temple on Thursday evening and her tuk-tuk driver asked the local tourism police for help finding her, according to the statement. They mounted a search party, but could not locate her until early Friday morning, when she was spotted by restoration workers and police detained her for questioning.

Police released Ms. Vermaat later on Friday, but shortly thereafter discovered that a statue inside the temple where she had been found was broken into several pieces. When they sought to take the woman back into custody, she had already left the country, the statement says.

“The Apsara Authority is cooperating with the heritage protection police and tourism police to find a criminal who destroyed the statue to condemn her according to the law,” it says.

The statue Ms. Vermaat is accused of destroying dates from the reign of Jayavarman VII in the late 12th century. It was already broken into several pieces when it was originally discovered, but was restored in 1988 so that it could be put on display at Bayon.

Provincial heritage protection police chief Man Chhoeun admitted that what happened inside the temple on Thursday night was not clear, and that there was no direct evidence to show that Ms. Vermaat was responsible for the damage.

“We don’t have evidence to prove that the woman destroyed the statue, because we didn’t see it with our eyes, but we suspect this woman did it, because she was there,” he said.

Mr. Chhoeun said Deputy Prime Minister Sok An, the head of the Apsara Authority, would meet with New Zealand officials to discuss the incident.

The Apsara Authority temporarily closed Bayon temple to visitors on Saturday and transported the pieces of the statue to the Preah Norodom Sihanouk-Angkor Museum for study and repair.

Ms. Vermaat did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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