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“Priceless” ancient manuscripts vanish from university, feared stolen and sold

Jack Burton



PHOTO: Southeast Asia Library Group

“Hundreds” of priceless historical manuscripts have been stolen from the Arts and Cultural Centre of the Nakhon Si Thammarat Rabhabhat University. A senior monk said the ancient folding-book paper manuscripts, known as “samut khoi”, contained stories and drawings featuring local history, traditions and culture, and might have been stolen and sold to people unaware that they belonged to the university.

The university’s rector has been suspended from duty by the university council. He says the books were stolen from the Arts and Cultural Centre more than 10 years ago, before he became rector.

He denies any involvement in the theft and says his suspension was related to the administration of the university and various complaints brought against him. He has filed a petition for justice with the Nakhon Si Thammarat Administrative Court.

The rector says he set up a committee to investigate the theft, filed a police report and asked the Department of Investigation to help with the investigation.

A public plea has been made for anyone who has what they believe might be one or more of the manuscripts to return them to the university. A centre has been set up by the university to accept the returned books.

A senior monk who helped establish the centre says anyone who returns any one of the missing books will not face legal action, as it’s quite possible they were not aware it was stolen .

On July 19, one of the missing manuscripts was returned to the university centre via a Buddhist centre in Bangkok.The next day, 3 large boxes containing more of the missing books arrived at the centre by post from the northeastern Khon Kaen province. They’re being kept at the Nakhon Si Thammarat Museum unopened, pending examination.

The monk said more are expected to be returned from Phetchaburi, Lampang and Rayong provinces, but didn’t elabourate.

The university’s acting rector says he expects the investigation to be completed in 30 days. A number of witnesses have already been investigated.

He believes insiders were involved in the theft.

The university’s assistant rector, acting as director of the Arts and Cultural Centre, said the centre has been closed for forensic examination.

He says he reported the disappearance of 309 historical works, but did not reveal how many such books were kept at the centre.

SOURCE: Bangkok Post


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Jack Burton is an American writer, broadcaster, linguist and journalist who has lived in Asia since 1987. A native of the state of Georgia, he attended the The University of Georgia's Henry Grady School of Journalism, which hands out journalism's prestigious Peabody Awards. His works have appeared in The China Post, The South China Morning Post, The International Herald Tribune and many magazines throughout Asia and the world. He is fluent in Mandarin and has appeared on television and radio for decades in Taiwan, Mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau.

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