The culture and fine arts minister said yesterday that she will assign a team to investigate the alleged religious activities and living arrangements of Vietnamese nationals on Bokor Mountain, close to the border in Kampot province.
After appearing in front of the National Assembly commission that deals with religious affairs, the minister, Phoeung Sakuna, said concerns had been raised in the media about the number of Vietnamese people visiting the mountain to worship.
“There is a belief that [Bokor Mountain] is a holy place and many people are visiting there,” she said. “I think this is freedom of religion, but we will check whether it is affecting our own culture.”
In recent months, the government has undertaken a nationwide census of foreigners that has resulted in hundreds of Vietnamese nationals without proper documents being deported.
The census has been praised as a way of helping undocumented foreigners become citizens and criticised for having the potential to target and unfairly deport certain groups.
After reports that many Vietnamese people were worshipping on Bokor Mountain – a tourist area that includes a giant casino – provincial authorities created their own commission in September to look for shrines or other buildings being constructed without permission, said Kampot provincial governor Khoy Khun Hour.
But, he added, authorities had found no illegal building, only existing temples and a Christian church that is now a tourist attraction.
“Previously, Vietnamese have come here, prayed and written their names [on walls] … we have taken action and educated them,” he said.
Opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party lawmaker Yem Ponharith, head of the assembly’s Education, Youth, Sport, Religious Affairs, Culture and Tourism commission, welcomed an investigation.
“I heard from the media that Vietnamese people have come and stayed for a long time on Bokor Mountain,” he said. “I am worried about the impact on Cambodia’s culture.”
Ponharith also requested an examination into the effects that the hydropower dam project slated for the Areng Valley in Koh Kong province could have on the area’s ethnic cultures.
Sok Kong, the tycoon whose company runs the hotel and casino on Bokor Mountain, could not be reached.