Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Christian groups described as 'second Pol Pot'

Christian groups described as 'second Pol Pot'

Christian groups described as 'second Pol Pot'

Religious tensions have been stirred up in Prey Veng province by recent letters

that compare Christian groups to the Khmer Rouge.

The letters, written by

a Buddhist group calling itself "The Committee of 20 Pagodas, All Clergymen and

All Parishes", claim that "in the upcoming days there will definitely be

religious war". Hundreds of people also took part in an anti-Christian protest

in four Prey Veng villages in late October.

"We, the Khmer citizens

throughout the Kingdom of Cambodia, propose to reject Christianity called Jesus

Pol Pot Number Two, which is carrying out activities in the country every day,"

the letter stated.

"Please brothers, aunts, uncles, grandmas, grandpas,

stand up in solidarity to topple the Pol Pot group, which has the underground

force that makes politics disseminating deceptive news to ensure the Khmer

[people] betray their own nation ... their own religion."

The letter,

which was handed out to residents of four villages in the province, stated that

a small group of Christian Khmers who were "crazed with US dollars" were openly

criticizing Buddhism, cursing monks, and asking Christians to step on Buddha

statues.

The chairman of an umbrella group of 700 Christian churches, the

Evangelical Fellowship of Cambodia (EFC), admitted some of the problems had been

caused by proselytizing Christians, but said feuding between political parties

was mainly to blame.

"I am strongly against rice Christianity. I do not

want people to buy other people's faith," said EFC's Mam Barnabas. "I believe

that some Christians do not behave well at all. The hit and run missionaries

leave Cambodia after they try to buy people's faith, and we are left behind to

suffer."

Barnabas said EFC encouraged its members not to be aggressive to

those of other faiths. He explained the political motives he felt were mainly

behind the letters.

"As it happened before the ASEAN summit, I think they

just wanted to stir up trouble to prove Cambodia is not a place of safety,

security or religious freedom," he said. "If it is not taken care of, this cry

of nationalism could mobilize more people to think negatively of

Buddhism."

He said those stirring up tensions were zealous Cambodians,

but not true Buddhists, since followers of the Buddha exhibited tolerance. This

was the first sign of trouble he had seen between the two religions.

The

spokesperson for one proselytizing Christian NGO, Eng Muny, witnessed the

protest in Prey Krang and Pichirath villages in which more than 200 locals

including achars from Beng Pagoda held banners asking Christians to leave the

country. The demonstrators were later dispersed by the police.

"They

protested that Christians should no longer live in the village and asked them to

leave," he said. "They appealed for people to join hands to overthrow Pol Pot

Number Two."

Muny said the allegations were targeted at his organization,

Kampuchea for Christ International (KFCI), but denied they were true. He said

supporters of the opposition Sam Rainsy Party had instigated the protest after

local Christians expressed support for the ruling Cambodian People's

Party.

"Christian organizations have no money to buy faith," said Muny.

However he did concede that some proselytizers had used "wrong words" and told

villagers that if they believed in Christ, life would be better than if they

were Buddhists.

A senior official at the Ministry of Cult and Religions

(MoCR) said such trouble was very rare.

"There never are any problems

between Buddhists and Christians. We are all friends. We are always meeting

together," said secretary of state In Visa Um.

However department chief

Yim Youdavann said she would investigate what had happened in Prey Veng. If the

ministry found there was a serious problem, it might issue an order to suspend

the activities of Christian NGOs.

"I am worried that if there is no

curbing [of the problem], the small problem will become bigger," Youdavann

said.

Although the letter bore the logo of the ministry's Buddhist

Institute, Miech Ponn, an assistant at the institute's customs commission,

condemned the letter and said the logo had been falsely used.

"We have

never used this cheap idea, and I would like to investigate where the letter is

from, and who is against Christianity," Ponn said. "This may be a movement that

could create trouble and insecurity for our country. They can create a problem

[not only] between Buddhism and Christianity, but also between Buddhism and

Islam."

MoCR estimates there are 100,000 Christians throughout the

country. Christian NGOs say the number of adherents is increasing steadily.

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