Monk Accepts Medal on Condition That Demands Are Met

After being awarded a medal of honor by Prime Minister Hun Sen, prominent monk But Buntenh said on Sunday that he would only accept it if the government met three demands related to the July mur­der of political analyst Kem Ley.

But Buntenh, a friend of the slain commentator who has helped organize events memorializing him, has been a fierce critic of the ruling party in recent years. In a sub-decree last month, Mr. Hun Sen awarded him with a medal recognizing his work protecting the environment as the head of the Independent Monk Network for Social Justice.

But Buntenh during an interview with Radio Free Asia on Saturday.
But Buntenh speaks during an interview with Radio Free Asia on Saturday.

The monk said he was “not surprised” by receiving the medal from the same government that has detained him for his activism on numerous occasions.

“I will accept this medal but I have three conditions because I know that those who prepared to give me this medal have the goal of gaining support,” But Buntenh said.

“First, they have to show the security camera footage from Star Mart of the shooting of Dr. Kem Ley. Second, ensure that justice is provided to Kem Ley’s family. Third, I want the right to organize a 100-day ceremony for Kem Ley in Phnom Penh without being pre­v­en­ted by Phnom Penh authorities.”

Authorities have refused to publicly release the CCTV footage from inside the convenience store where Kem Ley was gunned down on the morning of July 10, and police have given no new details about their investigation into the murder since the day it happened.

The suspected shooter, who was arrested by police shortly after fleeing the scene, has identified himself only as Chuop Samlap, or “Meet Kill.” Authorities in Siem Reap province have identified him as Oeuth Ang, a local who had previously been a soldier.

The funeral of Kem Ley—a popular voice on the radio and a grassroots political organizer with a large following on social media—saw thousands of supporters fill the streets of Phnom Penh as his body was carried from Wat Chas to his hometown in Takeo province.

But Buntenh said that he hoped to again organize a ceremony in the capital to mark 100 days since the analyst’s murder.

“We plan to mark 100 days in Phnom Penh, but until now the chief monk at Wat Chas has not allowed a ceremony at his pagoda,” he said, adding that district and municipal authorities had been pressuring the pagoda chief.

Khlaing Huot, the governor of Chroy Changva district, scoffed at the claim.

“If you quote me, please say that I am laughing because we have not even seen a request to organize a 100 days ceremony,” he said. “This is an issue for the pagoda.”

Kem Ley’s brother, Kem Rith­isith, said his family planned to hold its own ceremony in Takeo.

“In Phnom Penh, we already had the funeral for 15 days. We don’t want difficulties trying to hold this ceremony.”

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