W AT PREK PRA, Kandal - A long-simmering feud between two factions of monks
exploded into violence, with eight monks injured, at this pagoda this
The brawl followed more than two years of verbal disputes between
the two groups in what appears to be a battle for control of the
The groups have traded accusations over religion, their Buddhist
credentials, accommodation and sexual misbehavior. The leader of each group, one
of them the Wat's chief monk, now face expulsion from the monkhood.
Som Vun, deputy chief of the Phnom Penh department of the Ministry of Cult and
Religion, said a board of senior monks would sit in judgment on the two
They would be asked to confess their sins against Buddhist
principles before a decision was made on their cases.
But Som Vun
believed there was enough evidence of wrong-doing by the two and "we have to
dismiss them both".
On one side of the dispute is Prom Tin, Chief Monk of
the Wat for more than 10 years, and on the other Kan Sophanarid, a former monk
in Vietnam and Thailand who arrived here in 1992.
The other monks at the
pagoda, alongside the Bassac River in Kandal province about 4km from Phnom Penh,
are almost evenly split. Prom Tin has 22 monks in his 'camp' while Sophanarid
The conflict flared into violence on July 10 when one side -
which one depends on who you believe - attacked the other.
Prom Tin said
his monks asked for a room to sleep in because Kan Sophanarid's monks "have been
trying to occupy every place in the pagoda".
He said Sophanarid's monks
responded by throwing sand mixed with chemicals into the eyes of his monks, and
attacking them with sticks, iron bars and knives.
"We didn't know what
was happening after they threw the sand at us," said Tol Chor, on Prom Tin's
"All I know was that I was beaten and slashed."
minutes, eight of Tin's monks had been injured - mostly bruises and cuts to the
heads - and were taken to a hospital.
Sophanarid, however, told a
different story - that Tin's monks had in fact attacked themselves in the
Sophanarid said his group threw sand in self-defense when
approached by armed monks from Tin's side, who demanded access to a room and a
"When we threw the sand to defend ourselves, Tin's men could
not see and fought among themselves with axes, knives and sticks," he
Tin and Sophanarid each told the Post that the other was not fit to
be a monk.
Sophanarid, along with a nun, Houng Nith, accused Tin of
sleeping with young girls in his room.
"We could not obey him. He is not
a good man. He is absolutely a culprit against the Buddhist law," said
Tin, 87, denied that, saying: "I am old. I have no passion. This
accusation is not logical."
He said one of the girls accused of sleeping
with him had merely come to ask for lotus flowers to make medicine for her
Another was his grand-daughter, Siem Lina, who told the Post that
she visited Tin to give him food and talk to him.
"I don't care about
[Sophanarid] criticizing me. This is not something I should think about. I can
visit my grandfather any time I want to," she said.
Tol Chor, a Tin
supporter, said Sophanarid was not a real Cambodian Buddhist monk, but practiced
Kong Si Em, a Chinese religion.
"He is a very dangerous person. We cannot
allow him to stay in this temple any more.
"We don't know his background.
But one thing we know - he speaks poor Khmer language," Chor said, adding that
he considered Sophanarid a Vietnamese.
Chor said Sophanarid had arrived
at the pagoda in 1992, asking to stay for three months, but had since dedicated
himself to removing Prom Tin as Chief Monk.
Disputes between Sophanarid
and the existing monks quickly developed.
A group of high-ranking monks
from Phnom Penh visited the wat last year to try to resolve the conflict, but
Sophanarid had refused to take part unless Tin bowed his head in front of
"The Chief Monk does not bow his head to his juniors. This is
stupid," said Chor.
The tension grew early this year when Sophanarid and
his supporters tried to put a statue of a Kong Si Em goddess inside the
Tin refused insisted the statue be put in the grounds, not the
pagoda itself, because it was not a Khmer Buddhist statue.
rejected any suggestion his religion was against Buddhist law, but refused to
speak about Kong Si Em.
Speaking in broken Khmer, he told the Post he had
been a Buddhist monk in southern Vietnam and later practiced in Thailand for
nearly 10 years.
He said he had been given permission to stay at Wat Prek
Pra for as long as he wanted when he arrived in Cambodia, and had since spent
one million baht on repairs to the pagoda.
Som Vun, the Ministry of Cult
and Religion spokesman, said he did not believe that Sophanarid had much
knowledge of Buddhism.
"He is not suitable as a monk. He is a 'Kung Fu'
man actually. He has taught the monks military drills and things such as Chinese
[fighting] or Kung Fu."
Vun said Buddhist monks were supposed to be
non-violent and merciful, even to enemies.
He said he had found no proof
of sexual acts by Tin, but believed both sides were guilty of offending and
insulting their opponents.
Both Tin and Sophanarid appeared to have
recruited monks to the pagoda to support them. The Wat had less than 20 monks
last year; now it has 40.
Vorn Vuth, who lives near the pagoda, said
local villagers had to choose whether to support Tin or Sophanarid. He said some
of his family went to Sophanarid's worship services and others went to Tin's.