With police tape blocking people from the scene of the crime, Sear Pheara, secretary of Wat Ounalom, showed reporters photos on his iPhone of the bent metal bars and empty space once occupied by ancient Buddhist relics.
“The statues were smaller than this water bottle,” Pheara said, gesturing towards a 12-ounce bottle. “But the statues were covered in two damleung of gold.”
Police investigating the early Tuesday morning robbery of five gold-plated Buddha replicas, a copper urn and two elephant tusks from the popular tourist site near Phnom Penh’s Riverside remained tight-lipped regarding their investigation yesterday, as locals called for the suspect or suspects’ arrest and prosecution.
“Our investigative team is hard at work on this case,” said Mok Chito, director of the Ministry of Interior’s central justice police department. “However, we cannot say much about the investigation.”
Monks first noticed the artefacts, which are hundreds of years old, missing from the pagoda at about 3am on Tuesday, Chito said that day.
Timber, steel bars and thick glass stood between relics and viewers, Pheara said, adding that the difficult task of breaking into the window leads him to believe the job took more than two experienced thieves using “modern tools”.
In nearly 10 years living on Wat Ounalom’s grounds, Meng Phoumana, 53, said she had never heard of Buddhist relics being stolen from there.
“I hope they arrest the suspects,” Phoumana said. But, she added, she feared police may falsely accuse people who could then be given a hefty sentence for a crime they did not commit.
The Wat Ounalom case is the second in about three months in which items of religious significance have been stolen from a pagoda.
Keo Reaksmey, 24, was arrested last month for allegedly stealing an urn said to contain remnants of the Buddha from Kandal province’s Oudong Mountain in December.
Spokesmen from the National Police Department, Ministry of Interior and Phnom Penh City Hall could not be reached yesterday.