Police and soldiers cracked down on monks across town Tuesday afternoon, beating several and sending many into hiding.
At 1:30 pm, truckloads of soldiers stopped a procession of 600 monks heading from Phsar Thmei to Monivong Boulevard.
Hundreds of the marchers fled while others knelt on the ground in submission as soldiers advanced, pointing guns into the crowd and carrying sticks. Authorities kicked and beat several monks with electrical and wooden batons. Gunshots sounded, although there were no reports of bullet wounds.
Scores of demonstrators,
trapped between parked cars on the sidewalks and the soldiers in the street, piled on top of each other as the soldiers drew near. Many of the monks nearest the street were beaten.
The soldiers cleared a four-block stretch of Monivong Boulevard while they dispersed the demonstration. Three hours later, several monks said nearby shop owners had opened their doors, allowing them to escape.
The monks, carrying signs saying “Good leaders must not use violence,” said they were marching in honor of a monk whom they believe died in Monday night’s conflicts.
According to a human rights organization, that monk is Seng Rotha from Wat Patoum Patay, who has been missing since Monday evening.
At 2 pm, about 25 monks who escaped the confrontation fled to the US Embassy, where they demanded to speak with officials.
“If you don’t help Khmer people, they will die,” one monk said in front of the embassy.
At 2:30 pm, UN vehicles took about 30 monks from homes in the Phsar Thmei area where they had hid. One middle-aged resident on Street 118 who had sheltered seven monks for an hour said, “They [the police] are worse than Pol Pot.”
Meanwhile, at Wat Ounalom, tensions escalated. About 50 student protesters inside the wat’s gates shouted at about 10 police stationed outside. “You are not Khmer. Khmer does not shoot Khmer,” one protester yelled.
“If you come out, I will kill you. Why don’t you fight?” the police officer shouted back, then fired a shot over the wat’s eastern fence.
Inside, students proclaimed strength and endurance. Piphal Heng, an 18-year-old fine arts student, said, “We will try to do the demonstration again. We want democracy.”
At 3 pm, two truckloads of military police and soldiers arrived at the wat and asked to be let in. They were, and walked through the pagoda, occasionally firing into the air. No one was hurt.
A commander, who refused to give his name, said, “The demonstrators must disperse. We aren’t going to hurt them but they must leave the pagoda.”
Pol Vithay, police chief of Don Penh district, said the government ordered police to enter the wat to stop the protesters because they might do something wrong. But, he said, police did not arrest or beat anyone, nor did they have sticks or guns.
Meanwhile, numerous unconfirmed reports of monks beaten or shot to death circulated citywide. Witnesses said a monk who led the protest near Phsar Thmei was killed and police took the body away. Several monks and rights workers said they think police are hiding four bodies.
Nam Heng, a monk from Wat Ounalom, said several moto drivers and others said one monk was shot to death and another beaten to death Monday night.
Nam Heng, with a bandaged arm and wrist, was injured in the conflict near Phsar Thmei. He also witnessed the incident at Wat Ounalom. “I don’t know how many were wounded,” he said. “They beat the monks, they beat the students. They went inside the wat and closed the doors.”
King Norodom Sihanouk released a letter Tuesday saying, “I am so saddened to receive the news about the death and the wounds of the monks and Buddhist people, which makes me worried.” He offered condolences to the victims’ families.
Tuesday’s monk crackdown follows a separate incident Monday evening, when police detained at least 22 monks in the Olympic Stadium from 7:30 to 10:30 pm, witnesses said.
(Reporting by Saing Soenthrith, Touch Rotha, Konstantin Richter, Mhari Saito, Jeff Smith and Karen Coates)