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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Botched plans scuttle capital's Chedei

Botched plans scuttle capital's Chedei

T HE construction of a new Preah Sakyamoni Chedei (Buddha's stupa), to house what

is believed to be a bone of Buddha himself, has been canceled because of

apparent technical mistakes.

The temple was the brainchild of King

Norodom Sihanouk, who last year made a generous $900,000 donation toward its

estimated $3 million cost.

Construction of the stupa, sited next to Wat

Phnom, began in July 1992 and was supposed to be completed in 18 months. But it

has barely progressed beyond the foundations.

The work was postponed for

months because a miscalculation in the depth of the foundations, according to

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Public Works Ieng Kiet.

The

government had decided to abandon the stupa, but turn the Chedei into a museum

for Buddhist scriptures instead, he said last month.

The Chedei - which

had been planned to be 50m tall and 30m wide - needed foundations at least 25m

deep, he said.

But the architect who had designed the temple under the

State of Cambodia regime had allowed foundations only 8m deep.

The

government recently asked French consultants to study the construction to date,

and they said it was not possible to continue with such a foundation.

The

present foundation could bear only 20 or 30 tonnes of concrete but the Chedei -

if finished - would weigh 150 tones.

"It would be very dangerous if we

still insist on continuing building because it will collapse some day," Kiet

said.

"If we want to continue building it, we have to spend much more

money - about $500,000 - to put in more foundations."

Kiet did not blame

anyone for the mistake. He said the construction plans were drawn up at a time

when there was a lack of good equipment.

He said the government would not

lose anything because they had the good idea of turning the site into a small

museum, where Prey Tray Bedah (Buddhist scriptures) could be housed.

The

government hoped to build another Chedei, possibly west of the Japanese

bridge.

An architect at Phnom Penh Municipality, who would not be named,

told the Post there were three reasons why the Chedei at Wat Phnom had been

canceled.

They were the foundation miscalculation; the fact that the

stupa would be so high it would affect the aesthetics of Phnom Penh; and that it

would diminish the reputation of the historic Wat Phnom.

"When the Chedei

is finished, children would say they went to visit the Chedei - they wouldn't

say they went to visit Wat Phnom."

But the architect also referred to the

possibly of fraud on the construction site, saying material and money was

probably stolen by people in charge of the project.

He believed the

person or people responsible should be punished and made to reimburse the

government.

He estimated that more than a million dollars had been spent

on the building.

Government officials have previously said that more than

$370,000 in public donations had been collected for the building of the

Chedei.

Last October, King Norodom Sihanouk announced he would donate

$900,000 from the government's Royal budget to the project, because the public

could not continue to be asked to pay for it.

At the time, he requested

that a new committee, headed by Prime Ministers Prince Norodom Ranariddh and Hun

Sen and Acting Head of State Chea Sim, be set up to supervise

construction.

Currently, the bone of Buddha - it is said that when Buddha

died, pieces of his bones were later sent to Buddhist countries, including

Cambodia - is kept at a small stupa built during the Sihanouk regime.

It

is located in front of the city's railway station, crowded with people selling

goods around it in the daytime and homeless sleepers at night.

The King

requested the government build a new Chedei to house the bone, and chose Wat

Phnom as the site.

In an October 5 statement which announced the Royal

donation, King Sihanouk said the country would not see peace, national unity and

territorial integrity if the building of the temple was left

unfinished.

Relics of the Buddha are housed in religious monuments in

most countries with sizable Buddhist populations.

They serve as focal

points for worship and destinations for pilgrims who practice the noble

eight-fold path.

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