More than 80 monks and activists marching to Phnom Penh for International Human Rights Day blocked National Road 5 in Kampong Chhnang town yesterday evening after local authorities allegedly pressured a pagoda to deny them permission to rest there.
Independent Monks Network head But Buntenh claimed that authorities had prevented the marchers – who departed from Pursat on Sunday – from resting at the Aranch Karam pagoda.
“The pagoda allowed us to have a rest, but the police and authorities came to stop us in front of the pagoda door, and they told the pagoda to lock the gate. We did not do anything wrong, we just need to have a rest after a long journey as we are exhausted,” he said.
“We apologise to the [road] users for disturbing them, but we need a solution from the authorities. We march in order to join Human Rights Day and we are not afraid of any obstacle,” he said.
Hol Veasna, Kampong Chhnang town deputy police chief, denied the authorities had stopped the monks or ordered the pagoda’s entrance be locked. He said that authorities did not have any rights to interfere with a pagoda’s affairs.
“We did not tell the pagoda not to allow them to enter to rest. It is not true,” he said.
Naly Pilorge, director at rights group Licadho, who was at the march, said although the pagoda’s chief abbot initially agreed to let the monks in, “the authorities put pressure on him”.
Although the group wasn’t kicked out, they left for another pagoda where they found the gate locked before deciding to block the road.
The monks began blocking National Road 5 at about 5:45pm, she said, before marching almost a kilometre further and blocking the road for another 30 minutes.
By 7pm, the Aranch Karam pagoda said the group could spend the night there and the monks began marching back, she said.
About 100 monks are leading marchers down five national roads to Phnom Penh and plan to congregate outside the National Assembly on December 10 for International Human Rights Day.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY KEVIN PONNIAH