Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - The fighting monks of Wat Prek Pra

The fighting monks of Wat Prek Pra

The fighting monks of Wat Prek Pra

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

month.

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

pagoda.

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.

Kong

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

monks.

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

has 18.

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

side.

"All I know was that I was beaten and slashed."

Within

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

confusion.

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

warehouse.

"When we threw the sand to defend ourselves, Tin's men could

not see and fought among themselves with axes, knives and sticks," he

said.

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

Nith.

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

baby.

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

him.

"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

wat.

Tin refused insisted the statue be put in the grounds, not the

pagoda itself, because it was not a Khmer Buddhist statue.

Sophanarid

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.

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