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Convicted ‘relic thief’ dies of cancer: official

A chief security guard convicted in absentia last month of stealing a golden urn said to hold the Buddha’s remains died in hospital on Saturday evening where he was being treated for liver cancer, according to prison staff.

Chat Sineang, director of Kandal Provincial Prison, said 60-year-old Pha Sokhem passed away in Phnom Penh’s Calmette Hospital having lost a months-long battle with the chronic illness.

“He had liver cancer for months. We sent him to Chey Chomnas Hospital for treatment. Then, he got better and we took him back to the prison.

After that, he was sent to Chey Chumneas Hospital again, and then Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital, and then Calmette Hospital.”

Sokhem’s body has been sent to his family in Kandal’s Prek Pnov commune where they are preparing a traditional funeral, according to Sineang.

Sokhem was one of five men handed a seven-year prison sentence last month for stealing the urn, which is said to hold the hair, teeth and bones of the Buddha, from a stupa on Oudong Mountain in December 2013.

One of those sentenced, 24-year-old farmer Keo Reaksmey, has confessed to the theft and insisted he acted alone.

Sokhem and three other security guards convicted maintained their innocence throughout the trial, saying they were guilty only of “negligence”.

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