CNRP Seeks to Supplant Vietnamese Prayer Sites

CNRP spokesman Yem Ponhearith said on Monday that he plans to summon four government ministers to parliament to determine whether a remote area of Kampot province’s Bokor Mountain used for prayer ceremonies by Vietnamese tourists could be turned into a Cambodian cultural site.

Mr. Ponhearith, an opposition lawmaker who also chairs the National Assembly’s commission on religious affairs, culture and tourism, last week visited the mountain to inspect areas popular among Vietnamese tourists for the presence of stone graves believed to belong to their ancestors.

The lawmaker did not run into any Vietnamese visitors during his trip but found the remains of the alleged ceremonies. He said Monday that he would now attempt to have the area turned into a religious and cultural site for Cambodians.

“We will invite the minister of cults and religion, minister of fine arts, the minister of tourism and the minister of education to discuss how to manage this tourist space to serve the Khmer identity,” Mr. Ponhearith said.

“The commission is preparing a report, and we will look for available time to invite the ministers to discuss the management of the Bokor Mountain tourist site,” he added.

Mr. Ponhearith said the plan could involve a Buddha statue being erected for worship by Cambodians, whom he said might also pay respect to the stone graves.

“It is good to display [a statue] for holding ceremonies here,” he said. “We are not really sure those graves are Vietnamese because many Khmer people have died here.”

None of the government ministers could be reached for comment. Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan, however, said the ministers would be unlikely to support Mr. Ponhearith’s calls to intervene to alter the tourist site.

“In the Constitution, we are not into discriminating against any religion or culture. Anything that opposes freedom of religion, the government does not support,” he said.

“Tourists come and bring economic growth and friendship and diversity, and a culture of diversity is very important for Cambodia. We will not encourage anyone to insult any group.”

Many of the leaders of the CNRP have their roots in the 1980s resistance movement that opposed Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Vietnamese-installed regime, and have long used anti-Vietnamese rhetoric to build political capital.

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