Lawmaker Calls for Action on ‘Anarchic Religious Tourists’

Yem Ponhearith, chairman of the National Assembly’s commission on religious affairs, culture and tourism, on Thursday told a workshop that arrivals of “anarchic religious tourists” from Vietnam are harming Cambodia’s religious harmony.

In February, Mr. Ponhearith, a CNRP lawmaker and spokesman, led his commission on an expedition to Kampot province’s Bokor mountain to inspect gravesites to which Vietnamese tourists have flocked in recent years to pray and to venerate images of communist leader Ho Chi Minh.

At the workshop on religious affairs—hosted at the National Assembly and attended by about 300 followers of Buddhism, Islam and Christianity—Mr. Ponhearith said such practices threatened to cause religious divisions in the country.

“Anarchic religious tourists are impacting society and creating problems in the management of religion,” he said. “For example, it is especially the anarchic religious tourists on Bokor mountain [who come] to build [shrines] without permission or recognition from the Cults and Religion Ministry.”

The CNRP lawmaker also pointed out Koh Kong and Siem Reap provinces as locations where Vietnamese tourists have constructed religious shrines without permission.

“We already have a harmonized religion in Cambodia, but we have to prevent and study the negative thing we could call ‘the management system is not enough, so there are anarchic religious tourists affecting people’s feelings and creating disputes in our society,’” he said.

On the sidelines of the workshop, Seng Somony, spokesman for the Ministry of Cults and Religion, accused Mr. Ponhearith of making up words to serve a political purpose, saying that “anarchic religious tourists” are not a real thing.

“This is his technical word, but no such religious language exists,” he said. “It is his own technical word and we do not have this language in religion, even in Christianity or Islam.”

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