Hundreds of Cham Muslims protesting a divisive road to be built on the land of a Boeung Kak mosque this weekend appealed to higher powers for intervention: Allah, and Prime Minister Hun Sen.
On Friday, believers spilled onto the stairs of the Al-Serkal Mosque and prayed, but prayer soon turned to peaceful protest. While riot police watched on, there were no outbreaks of violence. Vocal road opponent Ahmad Yahya said the vast display undercut the outcome of a meeting held at the mosque in the days prior, where many of the Kingdom’s imams voted in favour of building the road, which will sit 50 metres from the mosque.
“We are Muslim, so we have to pray to God and ask God to not allow these people to build this road,” Yahya, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Social Affairs, said.
He repeated his assertion that last week’s vote by imams was a media stunt and that the majority of Cham Muslims opposed the road, a claim proponent Othsman Hassan, a Labour Ministry secretary of state, denied.
Hassan urged that more weight be given to the imams from across Cambodia and the seal of approval from Grand Mufti Sos Kamry, rather than the protesters. “Those who support [me] are the representatives of their villages and communes and districts, but Ahmad Yahya’s supporters are only from Chraing Chamreh I and II [communes in Phnom Penh] – we need to make a clear division,” Hassan said.
He added both opponents and supporters of the road go to pray on Fridays and said the weekend’s demonstration was merely opponents taking advantage of a large congregation for political ends.
According to Phnom Penh Deputy Governor Khuong Sreng, Governor Pa Socheatvong was planning to meet with Yahya later today, but Yahya yesterday declared he would not “waste my time” and would send a representative instead.
He also hinted that certain road proponents had proved themselves to be “enemies of Islam”.
Sreng said City Hall was unlikely to change its position but instead hoped to sway opponents to see the benefits a road could bring.
“We are not going to continue building the road if the disagreement and conflict keeps going on like this; we need to negotiate,” he said. He added that opponents were simply misinformed and would agree after further explanation from the authorities.
Prime Minister Hun Sen has in the past nixed major development projects to appease angered residents.