TEP VONG, Cambodia's leading religious figure and head of the Mohanikay Buddhist
majority, has ordered at least 50 monks to leave Phnom Penh's Wat Ounalom and return
to their home pagodas.
Tep Vong said in a letter to about 450 monks at the wat that he was worried about
a repeat of the chaotic events of 1998, when some monks protested about election
irregularities and became involved in violent clashes with the police.
He therefore ordered all monks who had come to the pagoda since 2003 to leave before
August 1. That day traditionally marks the beginning of the three-months-long "Johl
Vohsa" period, when monks have to stay within the pagoda. From that day onwards,
no newcomers would be allowed either. Any head of monks who refused to follow his
order would not be tolerated, he said.
He requested that monks stay away from anarchistic groups and told them Ounalom would
be at peace when he could "get rid of all suspected partisans from Ounalom".
Ounalom monks told the Post that Tep Vong is a CPP-supporter, and has been accusing
a faction of monks of being associated with the opposition Sam Rainsy Party.
The letter was also sent to the governor of Daun Penh district and the chief of Chey
Chumneah commune, where the wat is located between Kandal market and the palace.
The Post could not contact Tep Vong. However, his secretary confirmed that he was
the author of the letter.
Chhorn Iem, Secretary of State at the Ministry of Cults and Religions, told the Post
on Tuesday 29 that it was not the ministry's duty to interfere in the affairs of
each pagoda. "It is up to the monks, because they have the right to support
Monks interviewed by the Post called the decision unfair and said that no one should
be forced to leave the pagoda.
A 35-year-old monk from Kampong Thom, who had been in the pagoda since 1993 and who
wished not to be named, said a lot of student-monks were upset by the announcement,
and felt they should have been informed before coming to the pagoda.
The monk was upset that the letter used the word Anathippatay (anarchy). According
to him, Anathippatay means any action interfering with the progress of the country.
In the letter, Tep Vong referred to the chaotic events of September 8, 1998, when
monks participated in public demonstrations.
Several monks, demonstrating near Psar Thmei, were caught, beaten and hosed with
water cannon by the police. The monks protested against election irregularities and
violence in central Phnom Penh.
The next day, two monks were shot by police during another protest near the US Embassy.
The protests only ended when riot police moved in a second time, beating and kicking
all those who refused to budge.
This led to a big demonstration the following day, involving 8,000 or more people,
with monks at the forefront.
Last October 12 monks in Phnom Penh were threatened with expulsion from their pagoda
after supporting the Sam Rainsy Party. But after intervention from the palace, they
were allowed to stay.