kien svay district, Kandal province – A Protestant church in Veal Sbov commune was razed to the ground by members of its own congregation Wednesday, some of whom said its influence was causing fights between villagers.
Others, however, said the demolition was to protest an overbearing church leader who was pressuring parishioners to be more pious.
Starting at 4 pm, the day before it was set to reopen after a two-year closure, about 20 men using hammers and axes leveled Veal Sbov Commune Church within two hours, saying it must not be allowed to stand.
“It was demolished because of constant conflict, too many conflicts. It’s no problem, we can rebuild it when the conflict is solved,” said villager Chan Pov, 48, who had helped take down what remained of the single-story building on Thursday.
He said the church building itself was fueling villagers’ impulses to fight one another.
Khut Sam, 41, who also helped tear down the church, said the demolition was to protest congregation deputy Yim Sarun, who wanted village land to be used communally and pressured members to go to church.
“Twenty families don’t like the leadership of Yim Sarun,” he said. “He is very strict.”
For two years, the Christian villagers living near Veal Sbov Commune Church have been divided by a dispute between congregation chief Pen Sorithy and congregation deputy chief Yim Sarun.
According to Yim Sarun, Pen Sorithy wanted to give each of the village’s 23 families a small plot of land. Yin Sarun, however, said the land should be owned communally. Twenty families sided with Pen Sorithy; three sided with Yim Sarun.
Poor people from outside the community who supported Yin Sarun also joined in the quarrel, and the two sides argued so violently inside the church that district authorities shut it down two years ago.
On April 10, the Ministry of Cults and Religions decided to reopen the church, saying it was needed in the area.
Veal Sbov commune police chief Yin Sokhonn said villagers had hoped tearing down the church would halt village disputes.