Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Siem Reap village rocked by pagoda abuses

Siem Reap village rocked by pagoda abuses

The accommodation building for novice monks stands in the Rottanak Mony Rongko pagoda grounds yesterday in Siem Reap, where chief monk Vong Chet committed numerous acts of sexual assault.
The accommodation building for novice monks stands in the Rottanak Mony Rongko pagoda grounds yesterday in Siem Reap, where chief monk Vong Chet committed numerous acts of sexual assault. Thik Kaliyann

Siem Reap village rocked by pagoda abuses

Sitting on a bamboo mat inside the quiet Mony Rong Ko pagoda, 70-year-old Kean Sek yesterday was still trying to come to grips with the accusation that has rocked his community – that a once widely trusted abbot, Vong Chet, had raped at least nine of the boys in his care.

“I could not believe he would do such a disgusting thing to those boys,” Sek, now tasked with the pagoda’s upkeep, said. “He was so kind and calm . . . I was so shocked to hear his confession.”

Sek described the Kralanh district pagoda’s former chief as a kindly middle-aged man no one suspected of doing harm.

The image stands in stark contrast to the one known by the alleged victims in the case, who still live in fear of the man who stands accused of raping at least nine novices between the ages of 9 and 16 during a five-month period.

Police said Chet, 46, threatened to “punish” his victims should they inform their parents, while Chet himself confessed to paying the children under his care between 30,000 to 100,000 riel (about $7.50 to $25) to have sex with them.

In an interview yesterday, the mother of one of the alleged victims expressed her deep feelings of betrayal.

“He earned our family’s trust . . . He acted like he was a kind person, bringing things over for my son, and telling me that he loved my son as if he was his.”

Her son, 11, was raped 18 times by Chet, she said.

“I feel so hurt and angry, because I never thought the chief monk could do this to my son,” she said, standing in front of her home, a stilt house surrounded by rice fields just a kilometre away from the pagoda.

The abuse may have continued had it not been for one 16-year-old novice who broke the silence.

The boy, who moved into the pagoda in early November, said Chet raped him while he was asleep about a week into his stay.

“I shouted for help and tried to get out of his arms, but it was useless, as he was so strong,” he said. “The next morning, it felt so painful, and I decided to call my parents, and then my relatives reported it to the police.”

The boy said that the novices remain terrified of the monk, even though he is in provincial jail and faces a lengthy prison sentence for buying child sex and having sex with a minor.

“Before, we slept in our own rooms [in the pagoda], but now we all sleep in one room, because we are afraid that he will come back and hurt us,” said the novice.

There are now fears the monk’s alleged abuse has wrought havoc on other communities in the past places of worship he worked in.

According to Duong Thavary, head of Siem Reap’s anti-human trafficking police, Chet worked in three other pagodas during his time as a monk. Authorities will now investigate all three.

By Chet’s own account, he first worked at the Ta Kea pagoda in Siem Reap’s Puok district for one year, then for two years at the Wat Keo pagoda in Battambang’s Ek Phnom district, and then another two years at the Tranap Russei pagoda in Kampot’s Chhouk district, said Thavary.

But even if they only consider the case in Kralanh, provincial officials said they remain shocked at the scale of the alleged abuse.

“This has never happened before; it’s the first case for Siem Reap,” said Chea Heng, deputy chief of Siem Reap’s Provincial Anti-Human Trafficking and Juvenile Protection Unit.

Authorities are now saying the case has spurred them to pay more attention to the poorly policed rural pagodas.

“We, the authorities, have to pay more attention to all pagodas in our area and encourage villages and parents to cooperate with local police if they think anything unusual is going on,” said Chheun Chean, Kralanh district governor.

“The abbot has affected the religion and condition of the young novices, and the law will find justice for them.”

MOST VIEWED

  • Investors’ $14.4M projects approved

    New investments from local and foreign sources continue to pour into Cambodia despite the Covid-19 pandemic remaining a lingering threat to regional and global economies. This comes as the Kingdom’s gross domestic product (GDP) is expected to contract between one and 2.9 per cent this

  • NagaWorld casinos set to reopen, schools to follow

    NAGACORP Ltd has requested that it be allowed to reopen its NagaWorld integrated resorts in Phnom Penh after the government recently approved casinos to operate again, provided they follow Covid-19 prevention measures set by the Ministry of Health. Mey Vann, the director-general of the Ministry

  • Rubber exports stretch 17%

    Cambodia exported 97,175 tonnes of natural rubber in the first five months of this year, surging 17 per cent compared to the same period last year as the Covid-19 pandemic stretches on, Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries official Khuong Phalla told The Post on Thursday. Phalla,

  • ASEM supports Kingdom’s proposal to postpone meeting amid Covid

    The 13th Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM13) scheduled to be held in Cambodia in November has been postponed until mid-2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, a Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation press statement released on Saturday said. The decision was made during a two-day meeting

  • Coffee maker roasted for producing fake product

    The Ministry of Interior’s Counter Counterfeit Committee will send a suspect to court on Monday after she allegedly roasted coffee mixed with soybeans and other ingredients, creating a product which could pose a high risk to consumers’ health. On the afternoon of July 2, the

  • Cash handout programme 80% complete

    Minister of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation Vong Soth confirmed on Thursday that the implementation of the Cash Transfer Programme For Poor and Vulnerable Households During Covid-19 had been implemented for more than 80% of the over 560,000 families. The programme was introduced one week ago.

  • Cambodia armed with money laundering laws

    Money laundering will now carry a penalty of up to five years in prison while those convicted of financing terrorists will be jailed for up to 20 years, according to new laws promulgated by King Norodom Sihamoni and seen by The Post on Thursday. Comprising nine

  • Where is Cambodia’s exit strategy that can save the economy?

    With the prospect of being slammed by a double whammy, the government is working on an economic recovery plan to deliver it from Covid-19 and the EU’s partial withdrawal of the Everything But Arms scheme in the next two to three years Cambodia is

  • Schools to be reopened in ‘three stages’

    With guidance from Prime Minister Hun Sen, the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, is in the process of reopening schools in three stages. But no timeline has been set, ministry spokesperson Ros Soveacha said on Thursday. Soveacha said the first stage will be to

  • Kingdom, UN discuss rights

    A year after Cambodia received 198 recommendations from UN member countries, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR-Cambodia) met with the Cambodia Human Rights Committee (CHRC) to discuss following-up on the Kingdom’s third cycle of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) and