A group of about 100 people, including 50 or so monks, attempted to march yesterday to protest outside Phnom Penh’s Buddhist Institute, but were thwarted by droves of military police and district security guards on Sisowath Quay.
No violence occurred as Independent Monk Network leader But Buntenh called off the march after vocally denouncing the government, which he alleged was selling off the institute’s land to casino operator NagaCorp.
The march came despite the Ministry of Cult and Religion insisting on Tuesday that the destruction of part of the entrance and wall surrounding the institute was only to assist the construction of an electricity substation on the institute’s grounds by NagaCorp and Electricite du Cambodge.
The substation will be used to power a new addition to the casino across the street from the institute, and the government hasn’t sold or leased any of its land, the ministry said.
As the monks and protesters marched up Sisowath Quay yesterday afternoon, Seng Somony, spokesman for the Ministry of Cult and Religion, attempted to stop them from advancing further, brandishing copies of documents detailing exactly what the government had agreed to with NagaCorp.
“If NagaWorld does not follow this contract, I myself will bring all of you to protest in front of NagaWorld,” he said.
He added that the government was engaging with the project for development purposes and the destruction of the wall had only occurred in order to avoid the pillars collapsing during underground construction work for the electricity substation.
However Buntenh, speaking through a loudspeaker, would not buy that argument.
“We want the government to issue a land title to the Buddhist Institute to guarantee that it is not sold in the future. Or else protests against the selling-off of state property will spread throughout the country,” he told the crowd, which included Boeung Kak community members.
The group tried to continue marching onwards but were met with barricades and assembled military police, in addition to security guards.
A standoff ensued, with Meas Samnang, an adviser to the Ministry of Cult and Religion, allegedly lobbing insults at the monks from inside the ministry compound.
The crowd, which in turn accused the official of disrespecting Buddhism, had to be calmed down by Somony, who said that the ministry would “educate him” to be more respectful.
NagaCorp announced in February it would invest $369 million in its new Naga2 casino opposite the institute.
Earlier this week, a manager at the institute said visitors to the centre had dropped from an average of 30 a day to about three since the construction began.