Bathtub Suicide Cult Chief Released 10, 2002

Phnom Penh -- The head of a fringe Buddhist cult accused of encouraging three Cambodian monks to burn themselves to death in tubs of petrol has been released without charge, officials said on Thursday.

Chief prosecutor Bou Pin said Cambodia had no law to punish cult chief Dem Mam, 54, who was detained earlier this month in the eastern province of Prey Veng.

Two nuns and a monk died in bathtubs of blazing gasoline and three others were found trying to stab themselves to death late last month at the centuries-old Wat Thmar Sar pagoda, renowned for its strict meditation techniques.

"I have been a prosecutor for years and I found no laws to charge the man," Bou Pin told Reuters. "Those monks did it by themselves."

The cult members left notes explaining that their ritual suicide was the only way to enter heaven and urging people to be understanding.

At the time of his arrest Dem Mam denied any wrongdoing, telling police his followers had acted of their own volition. He also told officers he had not followed through with the ritual suicide himself since he was already holy enough.

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