Thieves loot Lao city’s Buddha statue heritage

Norimasa Tahara

LUANG PRABANG: More than a 10th of the Buddha statues in Luang Prabang, an ancient city in north-central Laos whose urban district is a World Heritage Site, have gone missing in the past few years.

Minobusan University in Minobucho, Japan, whose students help restore statues in Luang Prabang, says 120 Buddha statues are missing.

In 2001 the Buddhist university began a survey of the statues, the number of which was unknown, and in 2007 it reported to the Laotian government that it had confirmed the presence of 1174 statues. However, a survey conducted in 2009 revealed that 100 statues were missing from 35 temples. In 2010, another 20 statues were found to be missing.

Laotian authorities suspect the statues are stolen for resale, and have begun conservation efforts with support from the Japanese university.

Luang Prabang, on the Mekong River about 425 kilometres north of Vientiane, was the capital city of Lan Xang kingdom, which was established in the 14th century. The statues there are wooden Theravada Buddhism statues made in the 14th century or later, and are of high historical value.

While monks at the temples have begun keeping guard over the statues by sleeping at the temples, Minobusan University students have distributed brochures at the Luang Prabang National Museum to sound the alarm over the property loss and to call for increased security in the city.

”I hope to take part in establishing a security system for these historical heritage pieces,” said Yoshitaka Suzuki, 26, a researcher and student at the university.

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