Wednesday, July 31, 2013
Phnom Penh’s Chief Monk Visits Scene of Election Violence
Phnom Penh’s chief monk, the Venerable Khim Sum, visited a pagoda in Meanchey district Tuesday where rioting broke out during Sunday’s election and told monks there to refrain from engaging in political protests.
Violence outside the pagoda began at the polling station in the primary school next door when angry voters complained they could not find their names on the voter list and were not being helped by a National Election Committee staffer.
The scene then descended into anarchy when a man allegedly attacked a monk who was among the protesters. Members of a 100-strong military police force then fired more than 10 shots into the air to disperse the protesters, who continued unabated by smashing two military police trucks and setting them alight.
Monks leaving the meeting with Khim Sum said Tuesday the municipality’s chief monk had told those gathered they should refrain from engaging in such protests.
“I regret that I took part [in the protest] but what I was trying to do was help the people,” said Khuon Saray, 38, adding that Khim Sum had held up photographs of the protest to show the monks.
“Before we left the room the chief monk said we should not get involved in politics and the chief monk showed pictures of the protest,” he said. “I am very concerned about my safety and I must protect myself.”
Bun Theun, chief of the Stung Meanchey pagoda, said Khim Sum visited not to defrock the monks who participated in the protest and rioting, but to advise them on how best to live like good Buddhists.
“There is no plan to do that and we didn’t bring up the issue,” he said, when asked if any of the monks at the pagoda would be defrocked. “The chief monk just organized a meeting and advised the monks on the dharma chanting and to worship the Buddha.”
Yen Rotanak Sotheavy, 29—the monk who was attacked—and In Vuthy, 25, are currently staying with a local human rights NGO because they fear for their personal safety.
Speaking by phone, In Vuthy said local authorities had closely watched his movements the day after the election.
“I love my nation and I didn’t have any intention to cause the violent act. I just want to see Cambodian people unite together,” In Vuthy said, adding that he did not take part in the rioting that ensued.
Military police officials said Monday they were investigating the riots.
Military police spokesman Brigadier General Kheng Tito said on his Facebook page Tuesdsay that people who destroy public property “must be sentenced” under the law.
Brig. Gen. Tito also said by telephone that Lieutenant General Vong Pisen, deputy commander of the National Military Police, has been appointed to help Lieutenant General Ya Kim Y, municipal military police commander, with maintaining order in the city.
“I am not being replaced by Lt. Gen. Vong Pisen,” Lt. Gen. Kim Y said. “But if some violations happen, like the violence at the [Stung Meanchey] polling station, then of course we will get help from our National Military Police.”