Banteay Meanchey provincial police are on the hunt for suspects who have illegally excavated tombs in ancient sites in the Anlong Roth basin in Svay Chek commune on Sunday.
Yang Tangkouy, director of provincial Culture and Fine Arts Department, today said that authorities are looking for about 10 suspects who fled the scene and have not been identified. He added that the suspects ran away when authorities saw them illegally excavating the ancient tombs.
“We tried to follow them to arrest them, but they saw us and ran into the forest,” Mr Tangkouy said. “They left some equipment at the ancient tombs.”
He noted that the suspects were looking for jewelries or other valuable items that were buried with the dead bodies.
“We think they are people who live nearby the ancient graves, but we do not have any evidence to accuse them,” Mr Tangkouy said. “Relevant officials are investigating the case.”
According to the provincial Culture and Fine Arts Department, there are more than 30 ancient tombs in Banteay Meanchey province, with some that are over 2500 years old.
“As some belief, when someone dies, their relatives would bury them wearing valuable items,” Mr Tangkouy said.
He added that it is illegal to dig or destroy ancient tombs, noting that it is a preventive measure for historical research of the sites.
“We have cooperated with local authorities and expert officials to protect ancient graves, but [the suspects] conducted their excavation at night, and at many different ancient graves, which made it difficult for our officials to stop them,” he said.
Mr Tangkouy noted that some local residents do not understand the value of the ancient items that may be found in the graves, which are considered national heritage.
“It is difficult to explain to them and for them to understand about national heritage,” Mr Tangkouy said. “Destroying ancient items is like destroying your own heritage because they belong to the nation.”
“I want to appeal to everyone to join together in protecting our heritage. We regret that some of people do not love their national heritage,” he added.
Major General Aum Phirum, deputy director of provincial Police Protection of Heritage Department, said that the scavengers left several items when they fled, including three motorbikes, three pairs of flip flops and excavating tools.
Police have seized the items for official record and to help identify any suspect in order to proceed with legal action.
“We urge citizens to stop these activities because they are illegal and really affect our cultural heritage,” Maj Gen Phirum said.
He also called on residents to cooperate with authorities and immediately report to police or other relevant officials if they see people digging around in ancient tomb sites so that it could be stopped on time.