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Commune police chief jailed over looted artefacts

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The accused were caught red-handed while they dug for artefacts near a temple in Choam Ksan district. National Police

Commune police chief jailed over looted artefacts

The Preah Vihear Provincial Court on Friday charged and detained a commune police chief and four accomplices for plundering ancient artefacts from a temple in Choam Ksan district’s Pring Thom commune.

Guards at Prasat Khna Pagoda, officials from the Department of Culture and Fine Arts in Preah Vihear province and provincial military police arrested the five accused on Tuesday as they were digging up ancient artefacts in a protected area of the pagoda.

Provincial Department of Culture and Fine Arts director Nov Chankong identified the accused as Pring Thom commune police chief Bun San, 45, and his accomplices Siek Sopheak, 54; Nhet Tai, 54; Plan Proeungm, 37, and Heng Bun Sokhon, 37.

“Our officers detained them while they were digging up ancient objects and metals in Krala Peas village in Pring Thom commune, some 100 metres south of Prasat Khna Pagoda,” he said.

He said during the operation, authorities seized some exhibits, antique detectors, a truck, copper and some digging tools.

“This is the first time that our guards, with the help of military police, cracked down and caught the offenders committing flagrant crimes,” he said.

In the past, the authorities went to crack down on similar cases at the ancient temple but were never able to locate the offenders. The officers only found marks and tracks of diggings in the protected and conserved areas of the temple, he said.

Chankong said a few days before the arrests, his officers and provincial military police patrolled the protected areas at the temples in Kulen district and spotted new pits in many places, but no offenders. They then made sure to return and catch the suspects in the act.

He said the suspects and the exhibits were sent to the Crime Research Bureau at the military police station in Preah Vihear to build a case to be forwarded to the court.

Preah Vihear provincial military police deputy commander Keur Chheng Heak said the five suspects were sent to the court on Thursday afternoon for questioning.

Preah Vihear provincial court spokeswoman Chum Kaniya said the court questioned the group on Thursday and Friday before laying charges and placing them in pre-trial detention.

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