Cambodian officials defend sale of sacred tree to hotel

DPA, Dec 24, 2007

Phnom Penh, Cambodia -- Cambodian officials Monday said there was nothing wrong with selling a sacred tree from inside a Buddhist pagoda to a local hotel to use as a lobby decoration.

Kham Phoean, the governor of the eastern province of Kratie, said the 50-year-old stream barringtonia, or freshwater mangrove tree, had been sold for around 1,000 dollars only after full consultation with villagers and the committee of Prek Braing pagoda.

Local rights activists have decried the decision, saying it is immoral to sell the tree from inside a pagoda, especially as this particular species is believed to be the tree Buddha was born under and therefore sacred. Buddhism is the state religion.

Secretary of State for the Ministry of Cults and Religions Sun Kimhun said the tree was "national heritage" but that if the money from its sale went to a good cause, selling it "was OK, I suppose."