Hundreds of residents living around Phnom Penh’s Wat Kok Banhchoan protested outside the Pur Senchey district pagoda over the weekend against the chief monk’s plans to sell a local pond for $4.8 million to an unknown developer.
Pum Phally, one of the roughly 500 protesters who showed up Saturday and Sunday, said they got wind of the planned sale after a meeting was held between Choam Chao commune officials and monks at the pagoda on Wednesday. He said many residents rely on the pond to water their vegetable gardens and that they pray to the spirit of the pond, which is believed to reside in a shrine a few hundred meters away from the pagoda.
“We are not happy because the monk chief is conspiring with local officials to sell the pond. We do not want it to be sold because it is public property. No one can make it private,” he said.
Mr. Phally said the residents would continue to protest today and planned to submit a petition to Prime Minister Hun Sen asking him to stop the deal once they collected 1,000 thumbprints.
Chief monk Seng Thorn could not be reached for comment.
Commune chief Suth Sath, who attended Wednesday’s meeting, defended the planned sale but declined to name the pending buyer and insisted inexplicably on calling the deal a “swap.” He said the pagoda’s plan was to sell the 3-hectare pond for $160 per square meter, which would add up to about $4.8 million.
“The chief monk plans to swap it, but he has not received even 1 riel from anyone yet,” he said. “The monks dug the pond to use the water, but now they have a clean water supply. Also, the monks lack money to develop the pagoda.”
Mr. Sath said the monks dug the pond in 1995. Mr. Phally, however, said the pond existed before that and that the monks only expanded it.