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Leurng Lea was arrested for digging artefacts in Banteay Chmar Temple in Banteay Meanchey province yesterday. Photo supplied.

Alleged grave robber arrested near temple

A man was arrested last week for digging up an ancient gravesite located about 10 kilometres from Banteay Chhmar Temple in Banteay Meanchey province’s Thma Puok district, police said yesterday.

According to Tap Saom, Banteay Chhmar’s heritage police chief, Leurng Lea, 48, was caught while exhuming the ancient grave, while two other grave-diggers at the scene evaded arrest.

“If the court issues arrest warrants for the other two, we will take action, but for now we have sent only one offender to court on January 12,” he said. “He could be imprisoned from five months to five years under Article 63 of the Law on the Protection of Cultural Heritage.”

Ancient graves sometimes contain ancient artefacts or precious jewellery. Though considered national cultural property, they are attractive targets for would-be antiquities thieves, and many Cambodian artefacts have turned up for sale on the international market in recent years.

Saom noted that the prospective grave robbers were prepared to camp overnight at the site. “When the police arrived, they had already dug up 1 metre; they could have reached the grave if they had dug up to 3 metres … Since 2010, four such cases have been taken to court.”

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