Mourning family members struggled to understand why an elderly man set himself on fire near Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Phnom Penh residence as they gathered for his funeral Thursday, while municipal workers demolished the shrine at the site of his self-immolation.
Ouk Vorn, 65, a bicycle repairman from Tuol Kok district’s Toek La’ok II commune, doused himself with gasoline and set himself on fire midday Wednesday, after kneeling in prayer at a shrine about 100 meters from the prime minister’s house. He died hours later at Calmette Hospital.
Family and friends said Ouk Vorn had no known political affiliation.
“My father’s death was not related to politics,” Ouk Sopheap, 36, said at a cremation ceremony at Preah Puth pagoda.
Ouk Sopheap said her father had been living in Prey Veng province’s Ba Phnom district until the family returned to the capital in 1980. Police had initially said the man was from Prey Veng.
Though he was healthy, Ouk Sopheap said her father was sometimes upset, but she didn’t know what could have led him to set himself on fire.
“I am feeling shocked,” she said. “It is hard to find information about why my father set himself on fire with gasoline.”
Khin Vanna, Toek La’ok commune’s police chief, said Ouk Vorn’s death was not part of any groups protesting land issues outside Hun Sen’s house at the time he set himself alight.
“His death is not related to a land dispute at all because there is no land dispute at our location,” Khin Vanna said.
On Wednesday night, only hours after Ouk Vorn’s death, city workers tore down the shrine, according to witnesses.
Witnesses said that around
6 pm, a number of city officials gathered at the shrine and made an offering of chicken and pig before asking the shrine’s spirit to leave.
Then, around 9 pm, two city gardeners brought a long stick with a hook on the end and knocked the shrine down, said a sugar cane juice seller who refused to be identified.
The gardeners then carried the pieces off during the night and returned around 9 am to dig up the shrine’s foundation.
Mann Chhoeun, Municipal Cabinet chief, said he did not know who ordered the shrine removed. He referred questions to Governor Kep Chuktema, who could not be reached for comment.
Witness Mok Savang, 53, said it was not the spirit’s fault Ouk Vorn burned himself.
“The shrine never invites people to burn themselves,” she said. “The shrine always protects people. But the man himself, he has his own problems that we don’t know. To knock down the shrine is not right. It’s stupid.”