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Buddhist Institute rewind

Heavy machinery operates on a construction site next to the Buddhist Institute in Phnom Penh in June
Heavy machinery operates on a construction site next to the Buddhist Institute in Phnom Penh in June. Charlotte Pert

Buddhist Institute rewind

Seeking to allay fears that the government is allowing casino operator NagaCorp to overrun the Buddhist Institute, Minister of Cults and Religion Min Khin yesterday claimed that any structures that have been built by the casino operator on institute land would now be removed.

After nearly three hours of questioning by the National Assembly’s Commission on Religion, Khin claimed that construction had been put to a halt. “For the Buddhist Institute, we are not renting [the land], or selling it, or [allowing] any development,” he told reporters after the closed-door questioning. “And as for removing [construction], we are organising the procedure to dismantle soon."

“Now I would like to tell all of you that we are stopping [this construction] right away,” Khin also said.

The construction site attracted protesters after parts of the institute’s walls were demolished earlier this year to make way for the nearby casino. In May, the government said that it had only allowed NagaCorp to build an electrical substation on the institute’s land to power a new hotel across the road.

But last month, the Post revealed that the company had told investors of plans to build another hotel directly on the institute’s site.

According to Yem Ponharith, an opposition lawmaker and head of the commission on religion, the substation would now also be relocated.

He said that the institute would hopefully be refurbished instead, to restore its past glory.

“We will go and look with our own eyes and request [the government] to help the Ministry of Cults and Religion to be given enough budget … to help the institute grow,” Ponharith said.

According to a recording of yesterday’s questioning, Khin told lawmakers that NagaCorp had not paid any money to use the institute’s land while constructing developments in the immediate vicinity.

“There is no rent. [Naga] has borrowed [our land]. There is [just] a borrowing agreement for them to keep construction materials, motorbikes and cars [on institute land],” he said.

This response earned a rebuke from Ponharith, who questioned why a highly profitable casino company was not paying for use of the land.

NagaWorld declined to comment before press time.

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