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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Saga of missing palace treasurers resurrected

Saga of missing palace treasurers resurrected

Saga of missing palace treasurers resurrected

C ambodia's Royal treasury, once a priceless collection of ceremonial artifacts, many

handed down from the Angkorian Kingdom, was plundered and looted during the war years.

Despite a recent war of words between King Norodom Sihanouk and a former republican

official over who was responsible for that plunder, the mystery of the Royal collection

remains unsolved.

Former Lon Nol official Ngan Sethy, also known as Norotin Rithiya, alleged in

early May that some of the treasures had been delivered to King Sihanouk abroad,

after he was forced from power in 1970 coup, and implied that the King may have sold

them.

But under threat of legal action from the King, Rithiya has now withdrawn that claim,

and the King, after originally vowing to drag Rithiya through court for defamation,

now appears to have back down.

Sihanouk's attorney, Bar Association president Say Bory, said in a June 5 statement

that the King has agreed "to postpone" the defamation case against Rithiya,

a former military official and popular 1960's film actor.

At the eye of the storm is the whereabouts of the center piece of Cambodia's Royal

collection, the ceremonial sword (Preah Khan Reach), a priceless pearl and gold encrusted

weapon, which according to traditional beliefs had been handed down from the Hindu

god, Indra.

Used to coronate Cambodian Kings since probably the 13th or 16th century, according

to historians, the sword's existence is believed to ensure the safety and prosperity

of the Kingdom.

It was removed for the first time during a 19th century Siamese invasion, when it

was reportedly taken to Bangkok but was returned for the coronation of King Norondom

in 1854.

For centuries guarded by the Bakus, or Brahmin priest of the Royal Palace, eyewitnesses

said the sword was on display when Lon Nol's republican regime threw open the Royal

Palace museums to the public in 1970, after Sihanouk's overthrow.

But it has not been seen in public since, according to independent sources.

The saga of the missing sword was revived by a May 10 article in the Kampuchea

Tgnai Ngi newspaper, in which Rithiya claimed that a Royal family member in 1971

delivered the Royal sword and a priceless diamond studded crown to Sihanouk and the

Queen mother in China, where they were living in exile.

"I know the Royal crown was taken to Beijing and that at least one diamond was

taken out of it for sale," alleged Rithiya, who implied that Sihanouk had sold

off royal artifacts to cover gambling debts.

Sihanouk, who was out of the country on an official visit to Moscow at the time

he was toppled by Lon Nol responded by saying that he has not laid eyes on either

the sword or crown since he departed Phnom Penh in early 1970.

" These 'Khmer Republicans' had possession of the Royal crown and the sacred

sword, as well as all the treasures of the King and Queen at the Royal Palace, Royal

museum and Sihanouk's museum," the king wrote in his bi-monthly bulletin.

"The removal of the sacred sword means the death of the Monarchy regime according

to Cambodian traditional beliefs," he added.

A Royal family member in Phnom Penh said rumors during the Khmer Rouge period, which

followed the war chaos of the republican years, were that the radical Maoist rebels

had buried and hidden the Royal treasures.

"Straight after the coup, the Royal Palace was sealed off and unscrupulous people

may have at that stage removed the royal collections for sale abroad and later blamed

the King," said the Royal family member.

"We heard at the time that a statue of Sihanouk's father from Wat Phnom Penh

had been sold to Hong Kong and that later the Khmer Rouge buried Royal valuables

out on the road to the airport."

Whatever the fate of the Royal treasury, the King has now been partly pacified by

a published clarification from Rithiya, which places the blame for the Royal sword's

disappearance on to a former prime minister of the republican regime, In Tam.

"In Tam followed the King's mother to southern China, under orders from Marshall

Lon Nol, and he [In Tam] is the man who took the sacred sword from Cambodia, not

King Sihanouk," said Rithiya in his clarification.

He said it was common knowledge the Royal crown, had not in fact been delivered to

the King, but had been taken from the Royal family by a mafia leader "Ms Chhou

who had melted it down and sold the gold for an unknown price"

Royal Palace officials declined to comment on how much of the Royal treasury has

been salavaged from the war years, but collection do remain in the palace's two museums.

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