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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Wide net in Oudong heist

People gather near a stupa at Oudong Mountain yesterday. Authorities are investigating the theft of artefacts from the site.
People gather near a stupa at Oudong Mountain yesterday. Authorities are investigating the theft of artefacts from the site. Heng Chivoan

Wide net in Oudong heist

Thirteen people were detained and questioned over the theft of a number of artefacts from the Oudong Mountain complex on Tuesday night, according to police, who were continuing to search for the ringleaders of the heist.

Eav Chamroeun, Kandal provincial police chief, said yesterday that unspecified quantities of gold and money and an urn said to contain the cremated ashes of Buddha were taken from a stupa at the site, usually accessible only to members of the Royal family.

“The lost gold and money, we don’t want to get them back, and if [the story] is disseminated, it will affect [the investigation]. They will destroy the ashes and they will know about the police investigation,” he said.

“We do not want to talk about it. We think it’s a matter of national identity, so please do not write about it.”

It was not immediately clear yesterday what other artefacts may have been taken from the stupa.

Officials at the Royal Palace, the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts and the National Museum declined to comment yesterday, adding to the air of mystery that now surrounds the theft.

Police closed the roads leading up the mountain on Tuesday while they investigated and fixed the door to the stupa, which the thieves had broken open.

Of the 13 men detained for questioning, eight were released by yesterday evening as police kept four security guards and a local villager, who was said to be drinking wine with the guards on Monday night, in jail at Kandal provincial police station.

The four security guards who remain in detention were all working the night shift on Tuesday, Kandal Provincial Governor Phay Bunthoeun said.

“Let the police do their job; I cannot say if they are guilty or not. They are being questioned because of the theft but have not been arrested,” he said.

Kao Sokheng, 42, said her nephew was the detained villager Kan Sopheak, 38. The four security guards were identified by Sokheng as Ka Sat, 47, Seang Sarin, 50, and two others she knew only as Thai and Khem.

Sokheng told the Post that at least one of the men, her husband, Ka Sat, had been mistreated while in police custody, including being physically assaulted.

“Police handcuffed, blindfolded and slapped him, and forced him to stand on one leg,” she said Sat told her during a visit to the jail yesterday.

Sat told his wife that he did not know what was stolen, she said, because the guards had left the area near the stupa to sleep under a banyan tree on Tuesday night to shelter from the unusually cold winds.

The families of the four guards said the men had only received a total of 10 months’ salary over the past two years, which had led them to work additional jobs to provide for their families.

The Ministry of Culture and the Royal Palace are contracted to pay a combined monthly salary of 170,000 riel ($42.50) to each of the guards.

The eight security guards who were released from detention yesterday were given a small amount of money to travel home and will be allowed to return to work at the stupa, according to a relative of one of the men.

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