Thai police vow crackdown on Buddha statue thieves

Thu Nov 26, 2009 3:05am EST
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By Sukree Sukplang

AYUTHAYA, Thailand (Reuters Life!) - Thai police promised to get tough with criminals who steal historic artifacts for the international market after a spate of thefts from the old capital of Ayuthaya outraged the public in the Buddhist country.

At least 20 heads of Buddha statues have recently been reported stolen from temples in the World Heritage province of Ayuthaya, which was the kingdom's capital from 1350 to 1767, said deputy national police chief Jongrak Juthanond.

"We believe there is a rise in demand in the antique markets abroad where people like to decorate their living rooms with these images," Jongrak told Reuters, a day after he visited the province.

He met with hundreds of monks at Wat Phananchaoeng Worawiharn temple to discuss ways to improve security such as closed-circuit cameras, higher fences and barred windows.

"It's already sinful to steal from temples. It's much worse to steal ancient relics," Jongrak said. "The thieves are cursed and those who buy them are cursed, too."

The latest case on Monday involved the theft of six Buddha statues from Wat Thammasinsopa temple in the province, about 90 km (56 miles) north of Bangkok. Some of the images were nearly 300 years old.

In another incident on November 19, seven heads of sandstone Buddha images were stolen at Wat Dong Wai, according to police.

"When the monks woke up for morning prayers, it was still dark and we didn't notice anything until we found the dogs dead. They poisoned the dogs in the middle of the night before stealing the statues," Phra Athikansadaeng Premasilo, the temple's 77-year-old abbot, told Reuters.   Continued...

<p>Phra Athikansadaeng Premasilo, a 77-year-old abbot of Wat Dong Wai, observes headless Buddha statues after the theft of heads of Buddha sandstone images on November 19 in the ancient Thai capital of Ayutthaya, about 80 km (50 miles) north of Bangkok, November 25, 2009. REUTERS/Sukree Sukplang</p>