Armed police raided the Wat Neak Vorn pagoda in the capital’s Tuol Kork district on Tuesday night after some of its monks attended an opposition demonstration that descended into violence at Freedom Park earlier in the day.
Police and monks had differing accounts as to why the seven-hour occupation took place at the pagoda complex or why police had searched a building overseen by Keo Somaly, a project coordinator for the Independent Monk Network for Social Justice.
“We did not know why they came,” Somaly said. “We just feel that just because we have joined protests since the election, they tried to intimidate us.”
Heak Chhork, who is living at the pagoda while studying English, said commune officers armed with bats and knives searched the room without explaining why.
But Boeung Kak II commune police chief Khan Khontith yesterday said that police occupied the pagoda until 4am in response to requests from the chief abbot to protect the complex from local thugs. Nobody was arrested and nothing was confiscated.
The police presence came just over 12 hours after a violent protest where opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party demonstrators badly beat several Daun Penh district security guards, some of whom had sustained serious injuries.
Somaly, who attended the demonstration, said the beatings were fair due to security forces’ brutal crackdowns on peaceful protests in the past.
“I think they deserved that,” Somaly said. “We don’t want a culture of violence, but the government created it.”
On the same night of the police occupation of Wat Neak Vorn, chief abbot Ngin Khim called Somaly to the temple to chastise him for attending, he said.
But Khim yesterday said that he merely told Somaly that engaging in such activity is not allowed.
“I did warn him not to join in any demonstration or protest, because it violates Buddhist rules,” Ngin said. “I told him doing that does not look good in the eyes of Buddhist people.”
Pointing out that monks at the protest made attempts to protect security guards, Somaly said he sympathised with the guards.
“We felt pity for those guards, and we forgot about the times they beat us,” Somaly said.