Cambodia Cult Chief Detained After Bathtub Suicides

Reuters/October 2, 2002

Phnom Penh -- Cambodian police detained the leader of an extremist Buddhist cult after a group suicide in which three people burned to death in bathtubs of gasoline and three suffered multiple stab wounds, officers said on Wednesday.

Handcuffed and stripped of his saffron robes, Dem Mam, 54, was taken in for questioning Tuesday night after the weekend suicide bid in the eastern province of Prey Veng, police said.

Two nuns and a monk at the centuries-old Wat Thmar Sar, known for its strict meditation techniques, died Sunday evening after stepping into bathtubs of gasoline, which they then set alight.

Three members of the fringe Buddhist cult tried to stab themselves to death in the belief that ritual suicide was the only way to get to heaven.

Dem Mam has denied any wrongdoing.

"I did nothing wrong, I did not force them to do it. It was their fault," local police chief Chhim Sakhon quoted him as saying.

He said Dem Mam told officers he had not killed himself because he was already holy enough to enter heaven.

Police said they were trying to round up two meditation books he allegedly distributed to local villagers for fear that more suicides might follow.

Under Cambodian law, police have 48 hours in which to bring a suspect before a court for charging or else they must let him go.

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