Stupa Retrieved From Tonle Sap Sewage Ditch
The battle over a memorial to victims of a 1997 grenade attack continued this weekend with Sam Rainsy pulling the stupa out of the river where it had been dumped last week and returning it to its original site in front of the National Assembly.
Phnom Penh Governor Chea Sophara on Sunday reiterated his position that the stupa does not belong in the park opposite the parliament, but said he would not order municipal authorities to remove the concrete structure. He said Sam Rainsy should have asked for permission to leave the stupa in the park, but hinted that he would allow it to stay.
“It is a small thing,” Chea Sophara said. “But if we do something, it is not so good and it becomes a big problem.”
Don Penh district officials, who oversaw the removal of the stupa Thursday night according to witnesses, declined to comment Sunday.
Chea Sophara said Friday it was not a municipal order to remove the stupa and lamented that it had been dumped in the river by a sewage outlet. Rather, he said, it should have been taken to a pagoda.
Sam Rainsy maintained the stupa, engraved with the names of those killed in the attack, should be returned to its original site, out of respect for the victims’ families who prayed over the memorial Thursday, on the three-year anniversary of the bombing.
“We cannot leave in the sewage the stupa on which are engraved the names of the innocent people who sacrificed their lives for democracy and justice,” Sam Rainsy said in a statement released Saturday.
A crowd gathered on the edge of the Tonle Sap opposite Wat Ounalom on Saturday morning and watched a group of men use two thick sticks looped through ropes tied around the memorial to hoist the concrete block and carry it up the steep slope.
The stupa was loaded onto a flatbed truck and taken back to its original site. After it was slid back into place, Sam Rainsy and supporters doused it with water, scrubbed it clean and cemented it to the sidewalk.
Pulling the stupa out of the river, Sam Rainsy said, “is like carrying the bodies of our dead and dear comrades from the battlefield.”
The 1-meter tall memorial had been erected Wednesday night, on the eve of the anniversary of the attack which killed at least 16 and injured 125. The four-grenade attack on protesters rallying against alleged corruption in the judiciary stunned the nation and Cambodia watchers around the world. No one has been brought to justice for the horrific crime.
Chea Sophara said Thursday that the stupa could be left at the attack site for a few hours on the anniversary then be removed. Specifically, he said, it may offend King Norodom Sihanouk, who returned Thursday from medical treatment in Beijing.
At 10:30 that night, a group of policemen and district officials arrived with a crane and removed the stupa. District police said they were only providing security, and that it was district officials who ordered the removal.
The stupa was found the next morning lying in the mud on the edge of the Tonle Sap near a stream of sewage.
If the stupa is taken again it will be rebuilt and replaced, with the costs being split among Sam Rainsy parliamentarians, said Son Chhay, a National Assembly member. “The government should help protect the stupa from being thrown away and stolen,” he said. “It is a symbol people [should] respect.”
Now the stupa is cracked and chipped. Incense and flowers have been laid in front of it and Sam Rainsy dared anyone to take the memorial again, saying it would prove they were involved in the 1997 attack.
“Those who would come to remove the stupa again would be the same people who removed it for the first time,” Sam Rainsy said. “They are working with those criminals in power who masterminded the deadly terrorist attack three years ago.”