More than 100 protesters, including about 60 monks, gathered in front of the Ministry of Cults and Religions on Thursday to protest the rumored sale of land within the Buddhist Institute to nearby NagaWorld Casino.
Seng Somony, undersecretary of state at the ministry, gave a press conference earlier this week to quash speculation that the demolition of the institute’s front gate was the first stage of a plan to turn the institute into a parking lot for the hotel-casino complex.
Unconvinced, protesters Thursday marched down Sisowath Quay toward the Buddhist Institute in Chakmar Mon district’s Tonle Basac commune to deliver a petition asking for guarantees that the land was protected.
But they were stopped in their tracks by a barricade manned by 200 military police officers.
At the barrier, the outspoken head of the Independent Monks’ Network for Social Justice, Bun Buntenh, said if the land had been swapped or sold it would equate to a betrayal of the Khmer people.
“We want to see the face of Minister [of Cults and Religion] Min Khin who is betraying our nation,” he said, before handing the petition to Mr. Somony.
Mr. Somony reiterated that the fencing that has recently been erected in the institute was to enable electrical work to be carried out by NagaWorld, while the company would rebuild the front gate once an underground road had been completed.
“[The Buddhist Institute] isn’t for sale or rental, it isn’t like that,” he said.
Earlier in the day, Mr. Somony met about 200 Buddhist monks studying at Preah Suramarit Buddhist High School and asked them to stay away from the afternoon’s protest and a second march planned for today.
“His Excellency Song Somony addressed 200 monks at 7.40 a.m. and told us not to join the Independent Monks’ Network for Social Justice in the protests,” said 17-year-old monk Sok Piseth.
“We are concerned about the possible loss of land but the Buddhist Institute is not lost,” he said, adding that he believed Mr. Somony’s explanation and thought preventing Thursday’s march to the site was a fair decision.
“A monk is a person who must follow Buddhist rules,” he said.
Another student at the Buddhist training school, 25-year-old Yim Heoun, disagreed.
“The ministry does not have the right to tell monks not to join the protest or to ban them from attending because the monks are worried and only wish to submit a petition seeking an explanation,” he said.
“I think they have sold the land.”