kandal province, Lvea Em district, Boeng Krum commune – District governor Chev Saren said Tuesday that police were unable to stop a mob of villagers from destroying an unfinished Christian-owned building on Friday because they were assigned to provide security for a conference.
Chev Saren said he had negotiated a compromise between Christian and Buddhist villagers so that no complaints were filed, adding that there were no plans to arrest mob ringleaders.
He added that the dispute was “neither a religious war nor motivated by politics,” but rather the result of people using derogatory words about each other’s religions.
Hundreds of villagers chanted anti-Christian slogans and watched Friday morning as the building—slated to house Christian teachers until permission to open a church could be secured—was knocked down and torched.
Some villagers said on Tuesday that the religious tension went beyond building permits and heated words.
“The problem is that the Christians will convert my little brother. They lure small kids with toys,” said 25-year-old farmer Sim Ne.
“We know how they convert people. They don’t break the law. They have other ways. So villagers worry that Buddhism will die, and we have to fight against Christianity,” he said.
Local Wesleyan Church leader Ros Sithoeun denied that his church was bribing converts with toys or medicine. “We had a program with people from Phnom Penh to check villagers’ health and cure them. Sometimes they brought their children, who had some candy and toys, and decided to give it away to the local children, but it was never a planned program,” he said.
Sim Ne also said Christian teaching was dangerous.
“The problem is that in Christianity, Jesus will cleanse your sin, so people can just commit crimes and ask for forgiveness. But in Buddhism if you do wrong there is karma,” he said.
A Wesleyan Church missionary who declined to give his name said the congregation now has about 50 members in Phnom Penh and churches in Siem Reap, Kompong Cham and Kompong Chhnang provinces, though he declined to say how many members they have nationwide.
“We forgive them and we don’t want to aggravate the problem more,” he said. “Our people already reconciled with the Buddhist leaders.”
Villager Kong Soth, 62, explained the reconciliation agreement.
“We already burned down the church, and now the district governor can come and find a solution for them to build a small house for their teachers of a size that both sides agree,” he said.
Kong Soth said that although the Christians had overstepped their bounds, the mob’s action was against Buddhist teaching.
“They should have negotiated. Destroying the building was wrong, against both the law and Buddhism,” he said.
Sim Ne said the ends justified the means.
“We understand that it is contrary to Buddhism to do that kind of thing, but we do it for Buddhism,” he said. “It is a small mistake for a big benefit.”