Monks Demand Apology From CPP Lawmaker After Pagoda Visit

A group of activist monks say they will force CPP lawmaker Chheang Vun to apologize for a heated discussion he had with a monk on Monday if he tries to enter one of their pagodas in the future.

Mr. Vun was visiting Wat Chas, in Phnom Penh’s Chroy Changva district, to check on his Water Festival boat and found CNRP lawmaker Eng Chhay Eang at the pagoda receiving a petition from villagers involved in a land dispute in Battambang province.

According to the Independent Monk Network for Social Justice, Mr. Vun, who also represents Battambang, threatened one of the group’s members when the monk told Mr. Vun that he was incapable of solving the villagers’ problems.

The villagers, who are in a land dispute with their commune chief, have been staying at the pagoda since October 26 while they attempt to call attention to their case.

A video circulating on social media shows the monk and lawmaker arguing. A photograph also shows Mr. Vun’s boat team enjoying a case of beer the lawmaker reportedly brought to the pagoda for them, angering the monks further.

“Do not get involved [in land disputes] unless you take off your saffron robes. Do not spoil the religion. If you do this, it spoils the religion,” Mr. Vun is heard telling the monks in the video .

But Buntenh, who heads the Independent Monk Network, did not personally witness the events but called Mr. Vun’s actions—arguing with the monk and bringing beer to a pagoda—“unsuitable” behavior for a lawmaker.

“These two actions have violated the Buddhist religious code and the pagoda’s territory,” he said.

But Buntenh said monks would hold a demonstration after the Water Festival to demand an apology from Mr. Vun. If none is forthcoming, he said, his monks would force Mr. Vun to hold his hands together in apology if he tries to enter any pagoda where members of the network live.

“[W]e will use the monk movement to force Chheang Vun to apologize because he does not have any right to threaten a monk to take off his saffron robe,” he said.

Mr. Vun denied any wrongdoing and challenged the monks to swear in front of the sacred Preah Ang Dongkoeu shrine that their version of events was true.

“If I insult monks, I will go to hell…but if the monks insult and falsely accuse me, they will go to hell,” he said.

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