Police in Kampot province are searching for six men accused of stealing a gold, jewel-encrusted ornament from the top of a reliquary urn at a pagoda in Teuk Chhou district’s Prey Khmum commune on Tuesday night.
Chhun Chheun, a Teuk Chhou district police officer, said yesterday that the six suspects drove a car onto the pagoda grounds at about 10:15pm on Tuesday, with one of the robbers calling out to monks for help, saying there were people following them who wanted to hurt them.
“They called for help and also told the monks to turn off the light in the pagoda. Then they started the robbery; that’s when the monks knew they were robbers, but it was too late to turn the light back on because one of the robbers went to stand guard near the light pole,” he said.
Only one monk was near the pole, Chheun said; the pagoda’s other monks were too frightened to stop the suspects from entering the room containing the urn – said to contain the bones of the Buddha – and taking the valuables away.
“The head of the pagoda was not staying in his room, because he had gone to Kampong Cham province, but he returned to the pagoda when he was informed of the robbery,” Chheun said, adding that officers were currently guarding the pagoda.
“There are more valuables in the pagoda, but we do not know how much.”
Prey Khmum commune police chief Chan Dara said yesterday that one of the suspects was a former monk in the pagoda who had resigned many years ago, but had a good relationship with the head abbot.
“The urn was made of gold, and there were about 200 small diamonds and four big diamonds, which are worth more than $30,000,” Dara said.
“The former chief monk received the urn from his friend in Sri Lanka, and he left it in the pagoda after he went to live in America.”
Dara added that the abbot and villagers who knew of the urn had always avoided discussing it out of fear for its safety.
“We were worried about something bad happening to this thing, and now it’s been stolen,” he said, adding that while the robbers did not brandish any guns, he suspected they were armed.
“The chief monk, Choub Sopheap, is trying to convince one of the robbers, who was a former monk in the pagoda, to return [it] to him, and [Sopheap] believes 100 per cent that the robber will bring it back,” Dara said.
Oung Vibol, a spokesman for the Ministry of Cult and Religions, referred questions on the matter to spokesman Seng Somony, who could not be reached for comment.