Tep Vong, the Supreme Patriarch of the Mohanikaya Buddhist sect, has ordered about 20 monks and poor students to vacate the house they share at Phnom Penh’s Wat Ounalom by the end of today, his cabinet chief said Tuesday.
The Kandal province monks and impoverished students live in a makeshift wood and tin structure, which Cabinet Chief Chhoeng Bunchhea said stands in the way of construction for a new residence.
Chhoeng Bunchhea said that Wat Ounalom had given monk Say Sok Heng permission to raise funds for a new house in 1997, but the monk failed to renovate and resisted attempted construction by charitable people.
“Say Sok Heng must be removed from here so that the building can be built for monks and students from Kandal” who are approved to live there, Chhoeng Bunchhea said.
He added that the current residents do not have a letter of permission from the chief monk of Kandal province to stay there, so they should also go.
But Say Sok Heng said Tuesday that he was accused of being an activist for the opposition Sam Rainsy Party and that the other monks and students were accused of being lazy, not studying and making trouble. He denied being a party activist.
Even so, two opposition lawmakers have sent a letter to King Norodom Sihamoni on the evicted residents’ behalf.
Chhoeung Bunchhea denied the eviction was related to any political affiliation and said those evicted could apply for accommodation once the new building is finished. Say Sok Heng said he had asked permission to raise funds many times but his offers were rejected.
The residents of the house, meanwhile, worried they will have nowhere to stay. “We want to stay here so that we can continue our studies,” 22-year-old monk Sap Sarith said. “We made no mistake.”
“We are very poor and we depend on the pagoda for accommodation,” Lanh Udom Rinsey, a first-year archeology student, said. “If we are evicted, our studies will finish.”