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Locals accuse monk of inappropriate land sale

A crowd of some 300 villagers in Por Sen Chey district yesterday called for the chief monk of Kok Banchoan Pagoda to stand down after he proposed selling a village lake to build a $1 million temple.

In a meeting led by Choam Chao commune chief Soth Sath on February 24, head monk Seng Thang signalled his intention to sell the 4-hectare Srah Preah Tonle lake, located east of the pagoda.

But yesterday, as escalating protests entered their third day, villagers decried the move, calling it a “conspiracy” between Thang and the village and commune leaders, and said the land should be kept for a school or hospital.

“There is a conspiracy among local authorities with the chief monk . . . without putting it to the people,” said Khy Cheu, a protester from Thmar Kol village.

Protester Hang Chanthou, of Choam Chao village, highlighted the urgent need for a school.

“We don’t have a high school in this community. Our children go to Chumpou Von High School, which is very far [about 5 kilometres] away,” Chanthou said.

Protesters said they wanted to oust Thang from the pagoda, claiming the monk filled up a lake south of the temple, demolished old villagers’ stupas, sold the new vacant land to rich people and destroyed the old temple so he would have a pretext to construct a new one – all accusations that Thang denied.

The protesters said that they had collected a thumbprinted petition against the monk in the past and submitted it to the local authorities, whom they claim did not take action.

Choam Chao commune chief Soth Sath said yesterday that the lake is the property of the pagoda.

“There is no sale. We just discussed it with the local people at the pagoda and village chiefs in order to request the Ministry of Cult and Religion to sell the land to get funds to build the temple,” Sath said.

Thang, meanwhile, said protesters had been incited by misinformation.

“We held the meeting in an open way so that no one would say we conspired with the authorities to sell the lake,” he said.

“My will is to work according to the law.”

Protesters vowed to return today and to protest in Choam Chao commune, before taking their fight to City Hall and finally to the prime minister’s doorstep.

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