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Unclaimed Urns Moved To Shelves, Search for Families Continues

Over 100 cremation urns are seen in this public vault at Wat Lanka in Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh, Sunday, February 1, 2015. The urns are believed to have been left from Cambodia’s chaotic war period of the 1970s and have yet to be picked up by surviving loved ones. The monks have made public the vault of urns, in hopes of helping people claim them. (Courtesy of Documentation Center of Cambodia)

Unclaimed cremation urns recently discovered at a Phnom Penh pagoda have been removed from the stupas that had housed them on the floor and now sit on proper shelves.

Chhang Youk, head of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, who helped fund the move, says a registry will also be started to help families reclaim the urns, which were abandoned along with the city of Phnom Penh when it was overrun by the Khmer Rouge, in April 1975, in the years of civil strife since.

A team of 10 people from the center moved the urns from a small, dark room, under the shrine of Buddha, to a meditation hall, thanks to a donation from Chhang Youk’s deceased sister.

Some 500 urns are now listed, with dates from 1970 to 1990. Identification tags will help monks search them more quickly than before, he said.

“When the family members come to look for them, the monks will inspect the identification before returning the urns to the family members,” he said in an email.

Phan Chan Dara, deputy chief of the Wat Lanka pagoda, said he hoped more people would now come to claim the urns. “It looks more proper,” he said of the shelves. “It is an act of valuing other human beings of the nation.”

Chhang Youk, inspired by his sister, who recently passed away at the age of 56, said he will continue to seek owners of the urns, particularly through a cataloguing of them.

“Human beings cannot live without memory, even though nothing is permanent in life,” he wrote. “The book will be beautiful…at least something we can give to those who already died.”