Another case of looting of an ancient burial site in Banteay Meanchey province’s O’Chrou district occurred last week, local authorities said Sunday.
Police stopped the digging—committed by about 60 families from three villages in Souphy commune—on Saturday, acting commune police Chief Khan Nhanh said. Villagers started digging up the ancient graves Wednesday, he said.
In June 2007, local villagers were stopped from looting the same burial site, which they had unearthed while digging a latrine at the time.
“We don’t know exactly why they dug again. They might have seen someone dig and find valuable ancient items,” Khan Nhanh said.
Banteay Meanchey provincial police Chief Hun Heang said he had visited the site to ask local authorities to cooperate and effectively prevent the villagers from plundering the site.
“We educated the villagers to stop digging and explained to them that these graves are our national heritage,” Hun Heang said by telephone, adding that “if villagers still do illegal [actions], we will take legal actions.”
Hun Heang confirmed that looting first started in 2007, when villagers found bones, skulls and ancient artifacts such as pottery and jewelry.
“Then almost all villagers [from the three surrounding villages] started to dig,” he said.
Digging at the site might now have resumed now because “crooked people pushed the villagers and told them no one would be arrested because it is close to the national elections,” Hun Heang added.
Local police are searching for the people responsible for spreading that rumor, he added.
Chuch Phoeurn, Ministry of Culture secretary of state for heritage, said the graves in O’Chrou district probably date from 200 to 300 BC, but added that the ministry had not done any research in the area.
Chuch Phoeurn said he hoped police could protect the burial site until the ministry had an opportunity to study it.
Mat Yuy, Souphy commune chief, said he and local police stopped the villagers from looting the ancient graves, but the villagers responded by saying they were searching for valuables because they are poor.
Commune police Chief Khan Nhanh also said that he could not confirm the site was now safe.
“I cannot say they have stopped 100 percent,” he said of the looters.
Khan Nhanh said it was difficult to stop all digging because the ancient burial site is on privately owned land and villagers could dig at night after local authorities leave.