The vast complex of ruins at Preah Khan has already been almost entirely ransacked of its carvings.
military-police post has been set up outside one of Cambodia's largest ancient temple
compounds to protect it from hired tomb raiders with machine-guns and metal detectors,
after information was received by preservation NGO Heritage Watch.
Heritage Watch founder and director Dr Dougald O'Reilly said this week that his office
received a report that "powerful officials are hiring armed looters to pillage
the temple of Preah Khan."
O'Reilly said he would not speculate on who these powerful officials were, and the
source of the information would not give a name out of fear for personal safety.
Immediately after receiving the tip-off, Heritage Watch notified the Ministry of
Culture. Within three days military and police had set up a cooperative post at the
site that remains in constant radio contact with Phnom Penh.
"I have to applaud the government in this instance because they've acted swiftly
to protect the site," O'Reilly said.
Although Preah Khan's huge moat and compound walls remain structurally intact, the
vast internal complex of temple ruins has already been almost entirely ransacked
of its priceless carvings. However, according to the informant, new looters hope
to remove the few statues missed by earlier thieves, and to search the compound for
bronze relics using metal detectors.
Preah Khan, also called Prasat Bakan, is near the village of Ta Seng in Preah Vihear
province. Since the late 1990s it has been raided repeatedly. In 2003, a disastrous
looting attempt led to the collapse of one of the temples, leaving a pile of rubble
where there was once a tower.
"In such a remote area with no phone coverage and poor roads, it took a long
time for the news to get out about what was happening, and locals couldn't do anything
to stop it because the looters had weapons," O'Reilly said.
He described tomb-raiding as dangerous and foolhardy.
"They're not architects, that's for sure. They're trying to remove essential
structural elements, you take these out and the whole structure collapses."
"Our source says the most recent looters are searching the ruins for bronze
amulets. Already they've used the detectors to find bronze bangles which were in
large stone jars; which may have held cremated human remains.
"They're using large-disc metal detectors. This is expensive, heavy equipment,
and possibly hired from mine-clearing teams."