The chief monk of a pagoda in Svay Rieng province was removed from his position Sunday by local religious authorities, and claims the demotion is retaliation for his political activism and assistance to villagers protesting the construction of a new canal across their land.
The chief monk, En Puthy, was removed in a ceremony presided over by the head of the Rumduol district department of religion, Toek San, who said the monk was to blame for his own demotion because he spent too much time away from the Chey Mony pagoda.
“We removed the chief monk and officially replaced him with a new chief monk today since he did not stay permanently at the pagoda and was always busy with his study,” Mr. San said.
He said En Puthy was sometimes truant for months at a time and did not inform local authorities before he went away.
However, En Puthy attributed his removal to the fact that he had supported local villagers in their protests against a Chinese company building the canal through their land in three districts, Romduol, Romeas Hek and Svay Teap.
He played a reporter a recording of his removal ceremony in which a local religious official can be heard saying, “He left the pagoda and suspended the pagoda’s work and prevented the government’s construction of a canal and did not have good relations with district monk officials.”
En Puthy said he had only left the pagoda to study for up to a month at a time, as he was working toward a degree in business management at the National Institute of Business in Phnom Penh.
“They removed me because I helped people fight for their land rights and the authorities were not happy with me,” he said. “I told people how to file their complaints and how to fight for land when their land was encroached.”
He maintained that he had the support of villagers, a claim that was backed up by deputy Meunchey commune chief Euk Sarin.
“They removed him because he helped villagers fight for their land,” he said.
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