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Monk flees pagoda over fears of arrest

Monk flees pagoda over fears of arrest

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The venerable monk Loun Souvath sits with residents of the Boeung Kak lake area during a demonstration outside City Hall earlier this month in Phnom Penh. Loun Souvath has been forced into hiding.

A monk at Wat Ounalom in Phnom Penh on Monday fled the pagoda out of fear of arrest by authorities for his participation in protests held by Boeung Kak lakeside residents and villagers embroiled in a land dispute in Chi Kraeng commune.

The venerable Luon Savath, ordained in 1990, went into hiding after returning from a protest in front of City Hall at the weekend, he said yesterday, adding that police have threatened him with arrest on four previous occasions over his involvement in protests.

“The authorities have not only warned me that they would arrest me, but have tried to get me defrocked by calling me a fake monk who violates Buddhist rules of conduct,” he said.

Luon Savath said that a police truck followed him back to the pagoda on Sunday and that he saw police stationed near the pagoda before fleeing in a car driven by staff at the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

“I am not involved with Boeung Kak villagers. I do not make problems. I was just observing the protest to find justice for the people,” he said.

Touch Naruth, chief of Phnom Penh Municipal Police, declined to comment yesterday. Chuon Narin, head of the municipal penal police department, said he did not know anything about the issue.

However, Phon Davy, director of the municipal cults and religions department, said that Luon Savath had not only joined with Boeung Kak lake protesters but others at Wat Botum and in Siem Reap.

“That monk has violated the rules to such an extent that the Great Supreme Patriarch of Cambodia Tep Vong issued a warning letter to ban all monks from joining protests,” he said yesterday.

Am Sam Ath, a technical supervisor for local rights group Licadho, said Luon Savath has only monitored villager protests to encourage them and blessed them for good luck.

“Targeting him is a serious violation of human rights,” Am Sam Ath said.

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