5 Cambodians jailed for stealing Buddha relics

KANDAL, Cambodia - A Cambodian court on Thursday sentenced five men to seven years in jail each for stealing a golden urn said to contain relics of Buddha after it was snatched from a mountain shrine.

The disappearance of the urn - believed to contain hair, teeth and bones of Buddha -- and several small statues came to light in late 2013, sparking a nationwide manhunt in the Buddhist-majority country.

Authorities recovered the urn and the relics during a raid in February 2014 at a house in the southern province of Takeo, around 130 kilometres (80 miles) away from the shrine in the former royal city of Udong.

Several people were arrested in connection with the theft.

On Thursday the court in Kandal province, where the theft took place, found five men -- including four guards at the shrine -- guilty of stealing the urn with the relics.

Judge Say Samphors Serey sentenced each of the men to seven years in prison for "stealing items of Buddhist worship".

A sixth man was acquitted.

The relics are believed to have been brought from Sri Lanka to Cambodia in the 1950s to celebrate 2,500 years since Buddha's birth.

In 2002, then King Norodom Sihanouk moved the relics from the capital Phnom Penh to Udong, some 45 kilometres (30 miles) away, in a ceremony attended by tens of thousands of people.