Stolen Buddha relics returned to Cambodian shrine

Phnom Penh: A golden urn containing relics of the Buddha, which was stolen in 2013, was returned to a mountaintop shrine on Friday in Cambodia.

The return of the relics to the shrine on the Oudong mountain was made on the Visak Bochea Day, the holiest day in the Buddhist calendar commemorating the anniversary of Buddha's birth, enlightenment and passing away, Xinhua news agency reported.

Great Supreme Patriarch Tep Vong, chief of the Mohanikaya Buddhist sect, and Supreme Patriarch Bour Kry, leader of the Dhammayut Buddhist sect, along with thousands of officials and lay people, carried the relics back to the shrine in an elaborate ceremony.

Cults and Religion Ministry Undersecretary of State Seng Somony said security has been permanently strengthened at the stupa to avoid the recurrence of theft.

"The number of security guards at the shrine has been increased about 10 times to ensure the safety of the relics," he told Xinhua news agency.

The relics were stolen on December 11, 2013, and were found three months later at the home of a robber in Takeo province. In the case, the authorities arrested five men, including four shrine security guards.

In August 2015, the Kandal provincial court sentenced each of them to seven years in prison.

Thed Buddha relics are vital in terms of cultural and religious value for the Cambodian people since about 90 percent of the country's nearly 15 million people are Buddhists.

Cambodia's late King Norodom Sihanouk brought the relics from Sri Lanka to Cambodia in 1957 to mark the 2,500th anniversary of Buddha's birth.

In 2002, Sihanouk moved the relics from capital Phnom Penh to the shrine.

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