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Cambodia authorities investigating ancient pillar excavations

Khorn Savi  THE PHNOM PENH POST  Sun, January 5, 2020

The stone pillars were located in Bou Sra commune’s Lum Mes village in Mondulkiri province. Supplied

A group of armed soldiers and three villagers colluded to sell ancient stone pillars to three Vietnamese nationals, claimed activist Kroeung Tola.

The stone pillars were located in Bou Sra commune’s Lum Mes village in Mondulkiri province, he said.

Tola said last Thursday that he, some community members and three Bou Sra commune police officials acted on a tip that a group of Cambodian soldiers and villagers had conspired to excavate, sell and transport the pillars to Vietnam.

“The pillars are hundreds of years old, between 40-60cm in diameter, and up to four metres long,” Tola said.

He said there are thousands of stone pillars in the area, located some 40km from the Cambodia-Vietnam border.

One pillar, he said, could be worth several thousand dollars and is sometimes used to craft furniture or decorate homes in Vietnam.

“I immediately called the district governor to request forces since the soldiers were armed and we did not dare go in there with only community members.

“They knew about our inspection beforehand. We met them about 1km from the area while we were en route there. We could not detain them because there was no evidence when we met them,” Tola said, adding that some pillars had already been uprooted.

The pillars, Tola said, were State property and considered natural resources like forestry and minerals. He said he suspected that provincial officials had colluded with the suspects to sell the stone pillars.

“We should preserve what our ancestors left for us. When they [criminals] sell stone pillars to Vietnam, it is left there, so I deeply regret their loss. I request the local and national authorities to come help preserve them. Soldiers must protect national property and love the nation,” he said.

However, Bou Sra commune police chief Lon Kim Heng said he believed that Vietnamese nationals had excavated the stones and Cambodian troops were not involved.

“I think that the stone is used by the wealthy to make handrails. Poor people likely cannot afford it. Their excavation is a destruction of a natural resource.

“There used to be soldiers involved but they were fired. We are tracking the suspects and have taken photos of the crime scene. We do not have any evidence to put the blame on them,” he said.

Kong Dam, a military commander in Pech Chreada district, told The Post he was unaware that soldiers colluded with Vietnamese nationals to sell the stone pillars.

“In short, I did not even know that there were such pillars in Pech Chreada district,” he said.

From: THE PHNOM PENH POST (CAMBODIA)  Sun, January 5, 2020

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