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Monday, August 08, 2011

Indian American Philanthropist Sponsors Buddha Statue in Cambodia


SAN LEANDRO, Calif. — Sulata Sarkar, a philanthropist based in the San Francisco Bay Area, has watched proudly as her latest project, the carving of a huge sandstone Buddha in Siem Reap, Cambodia, is nearing completion.

In 2005 on a trip there, Sarkar was moved by the plight of the Cambodian people who were victimized by the brutal regime of dictator Pol Pot.
“We talked to local people through our guide, Mr. BoBo, on what we could do to help local people relieve their past pain and suffering,” Sarkar told India-West in an e-mail.

After meeting with local religious and civic leaders as well a UNESCO representative and India’s ambassador to Cambodia, Aloke Sen, she came to decide that “a large stone Buddha statue depicting peace and harmony would be most appropriate for a gift from my family funds for the local people who have suffered a lot from Pol Pot’s regime.”
Sarkar, a native of Kolkata, first commissioned the ambitious project in May 2006. Now, after a few delays, she expects the seven-meter-tall work of art to be unveiled in December of this year.

The 80-ton statue is ma de out of pink sandstone and sits atop a lotus stand, which is situated on a large pedestal, and was carved by a handicapped former soldier-turned-stone-carver, 78-year-old Him Tour.

“I was first offered a site at the Angkor Wat complex, but this was not suitable because they shut the area early in the evening and I want this statue given to the public so they can enjoy it any time they want,” she told the Phnom Penh Post. So she accepted a donation of land in Siem Reap from a Japanese company working there, and kept in close contact as the construction was assisted by the Authority for the Protection and Management of Angkor and the Region of Siem Reap, known as the Apsara Authority.

The Phnom Penh Post has followed the construction of the statue from the beginning, and covered a colorful ceremony last December marking a construction milestone.

“The pedestal was completed in November 2010 and we invited Hindu priest Pt. Monomohon Mukherjee from the Livermore temple in California to bless the pedestal with vedic rituals and Antram,” she told India-West.

“By the first week of January 2011 the installation of the lotus and Buddha was completed. The Apsara Authority is putting a roof and water pond around the pedestal and completing the pavement and garden around it.

“We expect everything to be completed by the end of December 2011.”

Copyright 2011 India-West Publications Inc. This article may not be reproduced in any form without written permission of the publisher.
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Cambodia will get its artefacts back eventually, says ministry

By Pakamard Jaichalard,
Nanthida Puangthong
The Nation

The Thai Cultural Ministry has told the Cambodian government it will continue to hold 36 historic artefacts seized from smugglers in 2000 pending negotiations and confirmation of their ownership.

Cambodia had asked for the return of the artefacts, which were among a haul of 43 its officials say were stolen. The ministry says the items are being well kept as it examines the case before a committee processes them for return to Cambodia.

On Sunday, Xinhua news agency reported that Him Chhem, Cambodia's minister of culture and fine arts, had said he asked Sompong Sanguanbun, Thai ambassador to Cambodia, to process the remaining artefacts back to Cambodia.

Thailand seized the 43 stolen artefacts in 2000 and returned seven items to Cambodia in 2009. It was also reported that besides the 43 stolen pieces bound for Thailand, at least five others were stolen and smuggled to Switzerland. Another artefact went to Indonesia.

Thai Culture Minister Nipit Intarasombat yesterday said the matter was negotiable between the two countries. The artefact identification procedure could be speeded up if Thailand set up a special committee for the purpose. He said that if the evidence showed the items belonged to Cambodia, Thailand would return them.

Nipit said Fine Arts Department chief Somsuda Leeyawanich told him that Cambodia had confirmed ownership of the seven items already returned, while the remaining 36 were being kept pending clear evidence and bilateral negotiations.

Anan Chuchote, director of the Office of the National Museum, said the 36 items were currently kept at the National Museum in Pathum Thani's Klong 5 area. After talks between the two countries and confirmation of ownership, his office would have a committee process them speedily.

Thani Thongpakdi, director-general of the Foreign Affairs Ministry's Information Department, said he had not heard about the Cambodian request but the two countries had existing agreements and Thailand had already returned some of the stolen artefacts to Cambodia. The rest were under a process of inspection before returning.

After the Thai Customs Department seized the 43 artefacts from smugglers in 2000, the items, mostly temple-decorating sculptures, were sent to the Fine Arts Department for keeping. After a Cambodian request, Thai authorities processed seven items and found they were Bayon Cambodian art pieces from around the 18th Buddhist Era.

On June 12, 2009, prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, during an official visit to Cambodia, returned six demon sculptures and one angel sculpture to Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, in accordance with the agreement to return stolen artefacts to their rightful owners.
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Judges have 'serious doubts' about new KRouge case

PHNOM PENH — Judges investigating a new Khmer Rouge case at Cambodia's UN-backed war crimes tribunal said Monday they had "serious doubts" about whether the suspects fall under the court's jurisdiction.

The statement appeared to support observers' predictions that the court is likely to drop its fourth and final case, thought to involve three mid-level cadres, in the face of political opposition.

The judges also revealed details about the scope of the case, saying they were investigating some two dozen prisons and security centres across the country as well as allegations of mass killings and forced labour.

"So far, the office of the co-investigating judges did not notify the public of the crime sites in case four, because... there are serious doubts whether the suspects are 'most responsible'," their joint statement said.

The court is charged with trying senior Khmer Rouge leaders and those most responsible for crimes committed during their 1975-1979 reign of terror when up to two million people died in a bid to create an agrarian utopia.

Trial monitor Anne Heindel argued that the "most responsible" standard did apply to lower-ranking authorities accused of "extremely serious crimes", as previous examples in international courts had shown.

"If the investigation into case four is dropped on that basis, the reputation of the court will forever be besmirched by allegations that the decision was politically motivated," said Heindel, a legal advisor to the Documentation Centre of Cambodia, which researches Khmer Rouge atrocities.

Like the court's third case, which is officially still under investigation but also appears headed for dismissal, the fourth case is strongly opposed by the Cambodian government.

Prime Minister Hun Sen, himself a former mid-level cadre, has said in the past that cases three and four were "not allowed" and that going after more Khmer Rouge suspects could plunge the country into civil war.

In its landmark first trial, the tribunal sentenced former prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch, to 30 years in jail in July 2010 for overseeing the deaths of 15,000 people.

That case is now under appeal, while a second trial involving four of the regime's four most senior surviving leaders had its first hearing in late June, with full testimony expected in the coming months.

The disclosures about case four on Monday were prompted by a request by the international co-prosecutor to give victims more information.
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