A deputy district governor and a land tycoon are allegedly attempting to seize land deemed sacred by about 700 monks and residents who gathered yesterday in protest outside the unfinished Wat Kohbodhivong in Phnom Penh’s Sen Sok district.
Banner-wielding participants said that tycoon Chheang Paksour and Deputy District Governor Chea Khema are conspiring to parcel out pagoda grounds, despite the area being demarcated as sacred by the Ministry of Cults and Religion in 2006.
Locals allege that Phnom Penh-based Borey Peng Huoth’s The Star Platinum housing development is in cahoots with Paksour and Khema to build a housing project that would extend onto the sacred grounds.
“[The area] has been sacred grounds for a very long time but has yet to receive traditional rites so the pagoda committee is asking to build one,” said Peuy Meta, a chief monk, referring to a pagoda.
The construction of the apartments and villas began in 2013 and a heavy police presence had initially stopped locals from protesting, said Chhoun Sovin, deputy chief monk of Wat Kohbodhivong.
“Tycoon Chheang Paksour and Chea Khema claimed Hun Sen allowed them to develop the area so monks and villagers kept quiet,” Sovin said.
In 2009, locals triumphed over a botched relocation plan following clashes with police.
The area holds special spiritual import. According to lore, a python lived on the grounds in harmony with residents for several years, and the recent arrival of a 40-kilogram turtle was seen as propitious.
Nearly 30 monks intend to reside on the grounds until the dispute is resolved. The community has filed complaints with District Governor Ly Saveth and intends to file a complaint with Prime Minister Hun Sen. Saveth and Khema could not be reached for comment.
An employee of Borey Peng Huoth unauthorised to talk to the press said the company owned the land and construction was nearly complete.