Former Monk Detained Over Murder of Elderly Pagoda Chief

Police in Kompong Speu province are investigating a former monk over the murder of a 76-year-old monk who was shot dead Saturday while presiding over a Buddhist ceremony, an official said Monday.

Moeung Um, the first deputy chief monk at the Ang Sniet pagoda in Samraong Tong district, was killed by a single bullet to the neck just as he began speaking at a one-year death anniversary in Taing Krouch commune on Saturday night, according to police.

He had been seated alone on a stage in front of dozens of attendees and was shot through a curtain to his rear, police said.

Deputy provincial police chief Saom Bora said Monday that police on Sunday arrested former monk Chea Sarann, 33, who they suspect was the shooter.

“We couldn’t find a weapon or other evidence, but the victim monk and the suspect…used to argue when they stayed together in the pagoda,” he said.

Mr. Bora said provincial police were holding Mr. Sarann and that the provincial court would decide whether to charge him today.

Pich Pon, chief monk at the Ang Sniet pagoda, said both the victim and suspect had been monks at the pagoda for eight and seven years, respectively. He said he had never seen the two argue.

“But now I hear police arrested him,” he said. “Mr. Sarann is not the killer.”

About three years ago, Pich Pon said, Mr. Sarann asked to leave the pagoda.

“He was not good at learning Buddhism, but he was good at managing construction,” he said, adding that he convinced Mr. Sarann to stay at the pagoda for three more years to help with construction there. Mr. Sarann finally left the pagoda on December 7, he said.

Pich Pon said he suspects the murder was related to money Moeung Um had lent with interest to several people.

“Our monk was shot and killed by someone who owed him money,” Pich Pon said, adding that Moeung Um was set to be cremated last night.

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