Upon her return to New Zealand, Willemijn Vermaat, who until recently was touring Cambodia’s ancient sites, admitted to breaking a Buddha statue in Cambodia’s ancient Bayon temple.
New Zealand media outlet Stuff.co.nz reported that Vermaat, a Dutch citizen who moved to New Zealand eight years ago, believed a mystical presence told her to move the Buddha because it was not in a Buddhist temple.
“When I got in there I got a very strange feeling that something was talking to me, but it was like it was my own thoughts,” she was quoted as saying. “I was told I had to move the Buddha, but I said I didn’t want to as it’s such a great religion and nothing to make fun of.
“So I tried to sit on his lap, but that didn’t work, so I pushed him out. And I was apologising to him, but that must have been when I broke it.”
One of Vermaat’s friends in New Zealand praised her past activity campaigning for local causes but expressed concern she had private issues that needed to be addressed.
Vermaat was questioned by Cambodian police on Friday for having gone missing the night before, but police only discovered the statue’s toppling once Vermaat left the country.
It remains unclear if Vermaat will be prosecuted for the incident.
Vermaat, along with the New Zealand and Dutch embassies in Bangkok, did not return requests for comment.
Provincial heritage protection police chief Man Chhoeun said he was aware Vermaat was back in New Zealand but that information on the case was still forthcoming.
Im Sokrith, spokesman for Authority for the Protection and Management of Angkor and the Region of Siem Reap, echoed police, said, “We do not know the information officially, so we have not taken action yet.
The person who breaks or destroys our heritage’s statues must be held responsible by the law.”
Sokrith said the statue was a replica installed in 1988 after the original was damaged.