PRESS FOCUS 2009
Statue theft suspect captured by police

29 December 2009 - AYUTTHAYA : A man allegedly in possession of several stolen Buddha statues and amulets has been charged with robbery.
Police spotted two suspected thieves inside Wat Bandai in Nakhon Luang district about 5am yesterday. The two men saw the officers and fled on a
motorcycle. Police gave chase and caught one of them. The captured suspect was identified as Damrongsak Chaemchanuan, 31. Police found
several Buddha statues and many amulets in his bag. Mr Damrongsak denied stealing the statues and amulets. He claimed the bag belonged to the
other suspect named James. He was detained for questioning. [Source: Bangkok Post]

Police snipers guard Buddhist art in Thailand

11 December 2009 - BANGKOK (AP) - Police snipers are protecting Buddhist artifacts at a Thai museum after a spate of robberies including one
where thieves stole nearly 100 statues and works dating back 1,000 years. Security was stepped up Friday at the
Chawsamphraya National
Museum, which houses collections from the oldest temples in Ayutthaya, a Siamese kingdom founded in 1350 with many remaining ruins that are now
listed as a World Heritage Site. Ayutthaya police Col. Sombat Chuchaiya said a special five-man force including snipers will remain at least through
Dec. 20. Temples in Ayutthaya, 30 miles (50 kilometers) north of Bangkok, and elsewhere in Thailand have reported small-scale robberies in recent
weeks. The Khon Kaen National Museum in northeastern Thailand was the latest one hit. Museum director Ajara Kangsarikij said 91 "national
treasures" all more than 1,000 years old were stolen Dec. 5, including bronze Buddha statues and Buddha heads, amulets, sheets of gold from
ancient temples and burial sites and other items. Art officials were still working to assess the total value, she said. "These are all outstanding pieces of
art and the museum's most famous, beautiful pieces," Ajara said. "We had two security guards at the museum - now we have increased security and
will have an extra policeman to help patrol and guard the collection." Thai authorities have appealed to the public to report any sign of the missing
antiquities or tips to lead police to the thieves. [www.victoriaadvocate.com - 11 Dec 09

Restorers race against time

28 November 2009 - Currently there are 749 ancient mural paintings registered with the Fine Arts Department, says art expert Somsak Tangpun.
Experts and officials survey the mural paintings on the walls at
Wat Rat Burana temple in Ayutthaya province. Most of them are located in Buddhist
temples across the country. Some of these murals date back 700 years to the Sukhothai period. Many have been vandalised by thieves while others
have been ravaged by time. Conservationists are racing against time to preserve these rare murals as the Fine Arts Department is short of money and
manpower to do the job properly. The department can restore only 10 major pieces a year. Some of these paintings have suffered damage so severe
they cannot be restored permanently and must be repaired time and again. This is why restorers could hardly move on to start repairing other
paintings. Experts agree these old paintings cannot withstand the elements and any technological help toward restoration efforts is desperately
needed. They argued that conserving these ancient murals cannot wait and all available means and resources must be harnessed for the restoration
and repair work. The Fine Arts Department is now planning to restore the murals in the underground section of Wat Rat Burana using the ceramic
boarding technique. The department hopes this pilot project would help "immortalise" these unique paintings. To offset the cost of the project, the
department is likely to seek sponsorship from corporations which have a policy of promoting culture and art conservation.
[Bangkok Post - 28/11/09 - by  Bamrung Amnatcharoenrit ]

Concern over online trade in antiquities  

25 November 2009 - The Information and Communications Technology Ministry has been urged to keep a close watch on online trading of Thai
antiquities and religious artefacts after a spate of thefts from Buddhist temples in Ayutthaya province. Phra Yantrailok, secretary to Ayutthaya's chief
monk, urged the ministry to monitor and regulate websites that sell Buddha statues, Buddha heads and archaeological items. If antiquities could be
easily traded in an unregulated online market then thefts of such artefacts would increase, he said. Jiraphan Pimpan, chairwoman of Ayutthaya's
provincial cultural council, echoed the call for action. Websites selling antiquities featured the names, phone numbers and bank details of traders. The
ministry should follow up on these details, she said. Their calls followed a string of thefts and the beheading of Buddha images at temples in Ayutthaya
over the past week. On Nov 19, robbers stole the heads of seven Buddha images from Wat Dong Wai in Nakhon Luang. Two days later, the heads
of four Buddha images at Wat Daeng in Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya district were stolen. Six Buddha statues were stolen from Wat Thammasinsopa in
the same district on Monday. Meanwhile, more than 10 Buddha images were stolen from a temple in Trat province on Monday night, the third major
theft there this year. [Bangkok Post - 25/11/09 - by Sunthorn Pongpao and Jakkrit Waewkraihong]

Dept begins inspections of antique shops in city

24 November 2009 - The Fine Arts Department has launched inspections of antique shops in Bangkok and surrounding provinces as part of efforts
to find Buddha heads stolen recently from two temples in Ayutthaya. Department deputy chief Khemmachart Thepchai yesterday said the National
Museum Office, which is responsible for granting operating licences to antique shops, had been asked to inspect the shops in the capital to see if they
were registered. A total of 176 antique shops in Bangkok, Nakhon Pathom, Nonthaburi, Pathum Thani and Samut Prakan have registered with the
authority this year, Mr Khemmachart said. He said the number of antique shops registered with the authorities was small compared with the rising
number of such shops in weekend markets such as Chatuchak and Sanam Luang 2, and those in department stores. He estimated at least 1,000
antique shops have not registered. Officials would be sent to inspect antique shops at weekend markets to check whether they had registered or not
and to find out if they had violated the Ancient Monument, Antiques and National Museums Act. The inspection teams would also check to see
whether they had bought the Buddha heads which were stolen from the temples in Ayutthaya.
...
In Ayutthaya, six Buddha statues have been stolen from a temple in Phachi district - only a kilometre from a police booth. The theft from Wat
Thammasinsopa in tambon Nong Namsai yesterday was discovered after the caretaker of the temple, La-or Ngernngarm, discovered that padlocks
to the ordination hall had been forced open and six out of 10 Buddha statues had been stolen. Mr La-or, 71, said the six missing bronze and silver
Buddha statues were aged about 50 years old, and measured 6-9 inches wide.He said the temple and local residents feared thieves might return to
steal more statues, particularly the ancient one of Luang Phor Khao. Earlier, robbers cut off and stole the heads of seven Buddha images from two
temples in the province. So far, police have made little headway in finding the thieves. [Bangkok Post - 24/11/09]

Ayutthaya temple hit by thieves

22 November 2009 - Another ancient Buddha image has been stolen in Ayutthaya stoking concerns of a rising threat to valuable artefacts kept in the
temples in the World Heritage site province. Phra Samusomyot Yutwatthako, 47, the abbot of Wat Daeng in tambon Pak Tha of Tha Rua district,
said four out of six Buddha images about 300 years old have been destroyed and the heads of two images were stolen. The theft occurred on Nov 4
but the monk said he did not report the incident to police as officers have failed to recover previously stolen artefacts. Police have already installed a
yellow box but that failed to deter thieves. The Fine Arts Office in the province said the stolen heads of Buddha images were made of ancient
sandstone and carved during the reign of King Rama III. The office also said Buddha heads have been stolen in at least five temples in the past three
years in Ayutthaya, speculating that they were stolen to order. [Source: Bangkok Post - 22/11/09]

Information center of Dutch settlement in Thailand to be built

18 November 2009  - A draft MOU on the information center of the ancient Dutch settlement in Ayutthaya province was approved by the Cabinet
on Tuesday. The center will be established to celebrate 400 years of diplomatic relations between Thailand and the Netherlands. The Fine Arts
Department under the Ministry of Culture will be given full authority in designing and constructing the center. The Embassy of the Kingdom of the
Netherlands in Bangkok will cooperate by giving 200,000 EUR to support the construction. The information center will serve to provide information
about the Dutch settlement in Ayutthaya province, Thailand’s capital in the Ayutthaya era from the 14th-18th centuries BE. The settlement was
discovered on 20 January 2004 by the Fine Arts Department. Artifacts found include ceramics, glassware, Dutch pipes and Chinese coins as well as
many other items. Ayutthaya, which is known as Venice of the East in the Ayutthaya era traded with foreign merchants from China, France, Japan
and the Netherlands. [Source: NNT - Reporter : Dolsinee Kritayapimonporn]