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Workers demolish a wall outside the Buddhist Institute in Phnom Penh
Workers demolish a wall outside the Buddhist Institute in Phnom Penh. An electricity substation is being constructed behind the building – on institute land – and leased to NagaCorp. Heng Chivoan

Institute feeling crowded

Construction work at the site of Phnom Penh’s Buddhist Institute by Hong Kong-listed casino operator NagaCorp has caused concern among staff that the large development is driving away students.

In recent days, a wall separating the institute from Hun Sen Park in Chamkarmon district’s Tonle Bassac commune has been torn down with the approval of the Ministry of Cult and Religion.

A 3,000-square-metre plot of land on the grounds of the institute has been leased to NagaCorp to build an electricity substation that will help power a new addition.

Minister of Cult and Religion Min Khin ordered the wall’s removal in a May 7 letter, which warns that if the work is not completed, the ground will “collapse”.

Sar Sokny, acting director of the Buddhist Institute, yesterday said there were no plans to relocate the institute.

“We fear that the pillars will collapse, so the ministry has decided to demolish the wall,” he said, referring to instability created by a construction project that abuts the wall.

But a manager at the institute who asked to remain anonymous said he was worried that the grounds were being sold off to the casino operator piece by piece.

“What are they doing? They never let us know, but it can be seen they fence off nearly the entire institute and they knock it down and we do not know what they are doing. I am just worried that one day the building will be sold without telling us,” he said.

NagaCorp announced in February it would invest $369 million in its new Naga2 casino opposite the institute.

The institute was opened in 1998 with the intention that it would become a seat of Buddhist learning and a repository for Buddhist scholarship and Cambodian history.

But the recent encroachment by NagaCorp has affected visitor numbers, which have dropped from an average of up to 30 per day to about three, the manager said.

“The company [building] site makes people think the institute is closed. But in reality it opens every day, even though there are no readers,” he said.

NagaCorp’s management could not be reached.

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