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Tuesday, 27 August, 2002, 21:35 GMT 22:35 UK
Cambodia temple ruins yield treasure
An image of Buddha
Religion was outlawed under the Khmer Rouge
Workers clearing dense jungle near the ruins of an ancient pagoda in northern Cambodia have unearthed 31 Buddha statues - 27 of them solid gold.

The statues - which are 10 centimetres (4 inches) tall - are in good condition and believed to be hundreds of years old.

They were found on Saturday as workers were rebuilding the Po Pich temple about 100 km (65miles) north of the capital, Phnom Penh.

The pagoda, in the Batay district of Kampong Thom province, was torn down during the reign of the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s and the area became overgrown.

Community care

Deputy police chief of Kampong Thom province, Hang Sithim, said the statues - three of which were silver and one bronze - were buried in about one metre (3.4ft) of earth and each weigh around 500 grams (1lb).

''I think that these Buddha statues had been buried hundreds of years ago, when the last temple was fully operating," Mr Hang Sithim said.

Provincial authorities initially planned to take the statues to a nearby town for safekeeping, but opted to allow the Buddhist community at the temple to take care of them.

''We believe they are safe there,'' said Som Somphat, deputy governor of Kampong Thom province.

''The people of Po Pich pledged to treat them with respect and honour.''

Reign of terror

A police guard has been placed around the site to protect it from looters.

The Khmer Rouge waged civil war in Cambodia between 1970 and 1998 and controlled the country between 1975 and 1979.

The regime outlawed religion and destroyed many objects regarded as decadent or culturally impure.

About two million people died in the Khmer Rouge's drive to turn Cambodia into a farmers' utopia.

See also:

22 Aug 02 | Asia-Pacific
22 Nov 01 | Crossing Continents
13 Jan 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
14 Apr 00 | Asia-Pacific
26 Feb 02 | Country profiles
19 Jul 02 | Asia-Pacific
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