Copy of giant Buddha cast

PHUKET: Work began yesterday on a smaller version of the controversial Mingmongkol Buddha, as the committee behind the project sought to dispel allegations that brass donated to the project had “disappeared”.

Rumours have been circulating that more than 12 tons of brass earmarked for the massive image atop the Nakkerd Hills in Karon, had gone missing.

The head of the project committee, Suporn Wanichkul, said the copy was being made to prove this was not the case. “Brass items have been in safekeeping at Wat Kittisankaram (Wat Kata), but the committee brought them out and melted them down to make this copy,” he said.

Around 1,000 people attended the casting ceremony, which was presided over by Deputy Interior Minister Pracha Maleenont and attended by Phuket Vice-Governors Vinai Buapradit and Niran Kalayanamit.

The copy – made from seven tons of brass – is 5.49 meters across the base and 12.19 meters high; the “real” Buddha image, when complete, will be 25 by 45 meters. The remaining five tons of brass are, according to K. Suporn, “still in safekeeping”.

Apart from the question of the brass, the Mingmongkol Buddha project is also controversial because it would breach government restrictions on structures being erected in Phuket more than 80 metres above sea level.

K. Suphon said that the committee has not yet heard whether the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MNRE) will allow the full-sized Buddha to be built.

Thongchai Saowapong, head of the Phuket Provincial Office of MNRE, said the law allowed the erection of structures “necessary to the stability of the nation” – such as radar bases – on such sites, but that Buddha images did not qualify on this basis.

However, he added, “The government will consider this closely.”

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