The house at the center of an escalating dispute in Stung Meanchey pagoda was closed on Tuesday pending an investigation by religious authorities and senior monks, while supporters of the monk who purchased it threatened to break in if it is not reopened.
Senior monks at the often troubled pagoda on the outskirts of Phnom Penh claimed this week that Kim Seila, a 52-year-old Khmer Krom monk, had thrown 17 Buddha statues and other religious artifacts into a fetid pond after removing them from the house, which he acquired from a departing monk on Friday.
Now, Kim Seila is also under fire from the chief monk at the pagoda for breaking Buddhist doctrine by paying $50,000 for the two-story building, which is one of the biggest in the pagoda.
“According to internal rules of the pagoda, purchasing religious property is banned,” said Thai Bunthoeun, acting abbot at Wat Stung Meanchey.
“Yesterday, we heard that the building was bought for $50,000, so senior monks and officials from the department of cults and religion agreed that monk house should be returned as the property of the pagoda.”
Although the pagoda chief said he had signed a document on Friday to transfer the house from its former owner Bun Sithon to Kim Seila, he said he was not aware that cash would be exchanged.
“That document did not say this was a sale,” he said.
Phorn Davy, director of the municipal cults and religion department, said the house had been shut so religious authorities and senior monks could search it for evidence.
“The problem happened at that monk house so we decided to close it temporarily so we can investigate,” he said.
The front door of the house, which is number 17 in the pagoda, was padlocked shut on Tuesday.
On Monday, religious officials questioned Kim Seila for more than three hours, but the meeting was postponed without a result.
At around 3 p.m. on Tuesday, Kim Seila gave a speech in front of the house with about 30 supporters, many of whom were Khmer Krom monks, cheering him on.
“I think that monks in this pagoda want to grab this house. If you want it, please give $50,000 back to me and I will donate it to the Kantha Bopha hospital,” he said, adding that he had been set up, possibly because he is Khmer Krom, an ethnic minority from Southern Vietnam that faces persecution both in Vietnam and Cambodia.
Thach Ha Sam Ang, the head of Wat Samakki Raingsey, was at Stung Meanchey pagoda on Tuesday to support Kim Seila and delivered an ultimatum over the disputed dwelling.
“Today, I am here…as vice president of the Khmer Kampuchea Krom Buddhist Monk Association and we demand this monk’s house is immediately reopened,” he said.
“We will allow today and tomorrow for it to be reopened; if not, we will break the lock.”