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Workers repair a Buddha statue earlier last week after it was damaged by a tourist at Siem Reap’s ancient Bayon temple
Workers repair a Buddha statue earlier last week after it was damaged by a tourist at Siem Reap’s ancient Bayon temple. PHOTO SUPPLIED

Charges over broken statue

Charges have been filed in the case of a tourist from New Zealand who toppled and broke a Buddha statue in Cambodia’s ancient Bayon temple before fleeing back to New Zealand, a police official has confirmed.

“Even though she is not Cambodian, according to the law we have to file a complaint against her to protect our heritage and statues. It has already been presented at the [Siem Reap provincial] court,” said Pan Chay, chief of the heritage police in Siem Reap.

Chay declined to elaborate on the specific charges and the sentences they would imply, citing further investigation.

Willemijn Vermaat, the Dutch tourist who broke the statue, is now back in New Zealand, where she has lived for the past eight years.

Last week, Vermaat told New Zealand media that she pushed the statue – a replica from 1988 – under the orders of a mystical spirit goddess.

Friends of Vermaat told reporters she had been struggling with personal issues.

But there is no clear indication whether Vermaat will be extradited to Cambodia to face the charges.

“We have not been contacted by the Cambodian authorities regarding this case”, said Nick Peulen, a Dutch embassy official in Bangkok.

Although the possibility of such an extradition seems unlikely – New Zealand and Cambodia do not have any extradition agreement, and efforts to extradite New Zealand-based internet entrepreneur Kim Dotcom to the US are dragging on – some Cambodian officials are not letting the matter go.

Apsara Authority director Bun Narith said the organisation, which manages the Angkor Wat complex, had already asked the advice of the Council of Jurists at Cambodia’s Council of Ministers to figure out a way to bring Vermaat to justice.

“We will ask how to proceed,” Narith said.

He added that the Buddha statue at the centre of the storm has been repaired, and will be reinaugurated in its rightful place in a ceremony on Thursday.

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