Nearly 100 Cambodian villagers and monks were blocked on Thursday by riot police armed with batons and shields as they marched in the capital Phnom Penh to protest the demolition of a Buddhist institute’s main gate and portions of a surrounding wall to facilitate power supply to a nearby casino.
The marchers later handed a petition to Cambodia’s Ministry of Cults and Religion calling on the government to protect the boundaries of the Buddhist Institute, a government-supported scholarly institution and library of Buddhist texts founded in 1930.
“It would be a shame to lose any of the property of the Buddhist Institute,” Independent Monk Network for Social Justice spokesman But Buntenh said, warning of a nationwide demonstration if the government allows demolition to proceed.
Ministry spokesmen said on Wednesday that Cambodia’s government has not sold or leased any part of the institute’s land, however, according to a May 28 report by The Phnom Penh Post.
Instead, the government is only allowing casino owner NagaCorp to assist in the “construction of a substation on the institute’s grounds,” according to government statements quoted by The Post.
“The substation will be used to power a new addition to the casino across the street from the institute,” The Post said.
Rumored land 'swap'
Accepting the protesters’ petition on Thursday, a ministry official confirmed the government’s approval of a request by the foreign-owned Naga Casino to remove the institute’s gate and part of the wall to make way for the construction.
Protesters accused Cambodia’s government of transferring a parcel of institute land measuring 30 by 100 meters (100 by 330 feet) to Naga Casino in exchange for a rumored “swap” of other property, but urged a halt to the exchange, calling too for the Buddhist Institute’s boundaries to be defined and for an end to the sale of government property of cultural value.
Monks briefly confronted ministry authorities after one official reportedly “cursed” the protesters, witnesses said.
But a ministry spokesman apologized, assuring the monks that ministry employees would be educated in how to behave correctly in similar encounters in the future.
Reported by Tep Soravy for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Richard Finney.