As rumors spread that an American monk has been killed in the ongoing unrest, the US-born monk who shared his home with the man emphatically denied the story.
The Cambodian-born monk Ritti Poli—his American name is believed to be James Chan—is in a safe house awaiting a flight back to the US, said Vira Avalokita, whose American name is James Beard.
Vira, a monk who came to Cambodia from Tacoma in the US state of Washington, said he was questioned at his home in Wat Botum by International Red Cross representatives. They were investigating a report that Ritti Poli had been missing for three days and was believed dead.
“I spoke to the US Embassy and was told that Ritti Poli had gone to the UN agency for human rights, saying that he was in fear for his life,” said Vira. “I was told Ritti Poli is in a safe house and awaiting transport back to the US.
“He is not dead. He took his cell phone and laptop computer with him and said he was going to chant for the dead motor driver on Monday—but that is not a place you would take a laptop.
“He left his books, but nothing of value, so I believe he did not plan to come back.”
His information was confirmed by Funcinpec member Mu Sochea, a parliamentarian-elect for Battambang, who said her party was investigating allegations of the deaths of two monks, but that she knew “the American monk” was in a safe house.
But Vira said he was very concerned that Ritti Poli had come to Cambodia for political purposes. The house where Vira lives overlooks the sit-in site, and he said in the three months that Ritti Poli stayed there, he saw many strategy meetings in which lay people and monks met with Ritti Poli to discuss political issues.
“They would meet, then draft leaflets in Khmer and English on the laptop [computer],” Vira said. “They would take them away for laser printing, but later, I would see the fliers left around the room.”
Ritti Poli was pictured in a Khmer-language newspaper at the head of a demonstration at Independence Monument.
Funcinpec’s Mu Sochea also confirmed that “the American monk” was involved in strategy planning for demonstrations led by monks, but not in organizing the sit-in.
Vira said Ritti Poli left Cambodia 20 years ago and came to Phnom Penh from Boston, where he now lives. “There are many Cambodians in exile who think if they can get rid of Hun Sen and Sam Rainsy takes control, they will be able to return to positions of power,” Vira said.