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Villagers’ letter rejects offer for pagoda’s destruction

Villagers’ letter rejects offer for pagoda’s destruction

VILLAGERS in Kandal province sent a letter rejecting a deal paving the way for the destruction of a pagoda situated on disputed land yesterday, one day after an article was printed granting the pagoda a two-month reprieve.

Tuol Tamark pagoda sits on land in Kandal Stung district that officials say was purchased by the Heng Development Company in 1996.

Representatives of 2,676 families say, however, that they have a legal right to the disputed 1,044 hectares because they have been farming it since 1986.

On August 15, representatives from the Heng Development Company set an August 30 deadline for villagers and monks to tear down the pagoda.
An article in the Nokor Wat Daily newspaper printed on Monday, however, said the pagoda, located in Ampov Prey commune, could remain standing until the conclusion of Buddhist Lent in late October.

The owner of the Heng Development Company is Sieng Chanheng, the main financial backer of Nokor Wat Daily and whose daughter is its
publisher.

Kong San, a pagoda committee member, said yesterday that a letter had been sent to the Ministry of Cults and Religions, the provincial Department of Cults and Religions and the company rejecting an arrangement in which the pagoda would be destroyed in exchange for US$10,000. The abbot who allegedly brokered the deal last month, San Kimsong, has since gone missing, Kong San said.

“All of us did not agree to tear down the pagoda, but the abbot agreed to let the company tear down the pagoda in October,” Kong San said.

Sieng Chanheng said that she already had all the documentation required to prove that her company owns the land. She said the pagoda had been constructed illegally in 2000, and that she had allowed it to remain standing because of her “generous mind”.

“I am not the Khmer Rouge,” she said. “You should understand the reason I asked them to move. Because of my generous mind, I have always delayed the deadline for them.”

Buddhist sites are protected under Article 20 of the Kingdom’s 2001 Land Law, which states that the “land and structures existing within the premises of Buddhist monasteries are a patrimony allocated to the Buddhist religion”.

Kandal Stung district governor Choie Sobin said yesterday that he was not familiar with the disagreement.

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