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Villagers protest burial of AIDS victim in pagoda

Villagers protest burial of AIDS victim in pagoda


The coffin of an AIDS victim is taken out from the stupa for cremation.

Burying the corpse of a 44-year-old AIDS victim in the local pagoda spurred near

riots in Takeo province by villagers who finally ripped open the grave, saying the

body created a hazard to the pagoda's water supply.

"We do not discriminate with the death, but we feel disgust and are scared to

use the water," Khim Lin, 64, a villager living next to the pagoda said last

week. Six months after the incident, villagers are still not using the water from

the pagoda but instead are going to another pool four kilometers away for water,

she said.

The woman's family later cremated the body on the site and removed the ashes to another

burial site.

Although it is more common to cremate and put the ashes in a stupa, wealthy Chinese

Cambodian families often choose not to cremate. According to a top official of the

Minister of Cults and Religions, it's up to the wishes of the family and there is

no rule against placing a body in a Buddhist pagoda. In this case, the Chinese family

members of Vin Pin asked the chief monk of the pagoda for permission to bury their

mother's body next to her husband's stupa, and the permission was granted.

Vin Pin, 44, died May 28 at her home in Thmar Sar market, Borei Chulsa district of

Takeo province and was buried two days later in her hometown Angkunh pagoda at Tra

Lach commune, Traing district, some 17km from her house. Her husband had died of

AIDS in 2000 and his ashes are buried in the stupa at the same pagoda.

A few days after Vin Pin's burial, more than 300 villagers from five villages surrounded

the pagoda claiming the corpse would pollute their drinking water. In a letter to

district authorities they demanded the corpse be removed and cremated or buried elsewhere.

The authorities intervened in the negotiations between Pin's family and neighboring

villagers, but no agreement was reached and finally Chi Ngor villagers smashed open

the stupa.

At that point, June 9, the family decided to cremate on the site and took the ashes

back home to Thmar Sar village.

In a letter to the Minister of Planning, Chhay Than and to Government's Deputy Secretary

General, Khim Bo, the villagers had claimed the body was buried just eight meters

from the pool in the pagoda.

Nou Srey Aun, Pin's daughter, said that her mother's stupa was not eight meters,

but was 20 meters from the pool.

In the house where Srey Aun and her two brothers live a big photo of Pin is displayed

with a bundle of joss sticks, flowers, two glasses of tea and candles.

"Destroying the grave is a very cruel act," said Srey Aun. She said that

the chief of monks Nao Ponn approved the burial site.

"Other bodies they could bury anywhere," said Srey Aun. "Why not my


She said that Angkunh pagoda's chief monk Nao Ponn was beaten and ousted from the

pagoda after the cremation and has since fled to Phnom Penh. Other monks were defrocked

and have been replaced by new monks invited by the villagers to stay at the pagoda.

Srey Aun said that Tra Lach commune chief Thien Keo also had signed a letter of permission

approving the burial. Keo denied that, while handing a protest letter from 300 villagers

to the Post. "People are protesting because normally pagodas don't allow a corpse

to be buried in the pagoda beside cremated bones."

Ros Sang, 76, a clergyman at the pagoda, said the family did not come to discuss

the burial with the pagoda commission, but came directly to the chief of monks. He

said only bones can be put in the stupa. However Ministry of Cults and Religions,

Secretary of State, Sun Kim Hun said there is no law prohibiting burial of a body

inside the pagoda and it depends on the family's wishes.

"It is completely wrong that villagers destroyed the grave," said Kim Hun.

"The chief of monks has the right to decide to do anything inside the pagoda

compound. Though villagers fearing the flowing water from the corpse to the water

is reasonable," he added.

"About 95 percent of Cambodians are Buddhist so they should respect the monk,"

he said.

A moto-dop driver living near the pagoda who gave his name as Rin agreed. "They

should not destroy the grave. Buddhism would not be cruel like that," he said.


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