Almost 14 years after he was gunned down in Phnom Penh, Sam Bunthoeun, an outspoken and widely revered monk, was finally cremated over the weekend in a three-day ceremony in Kandal province that attracted hundreds of thousands of mourners, officials said.
Mai Limhav, chief of Ponhea Leu district’s cults and religions department, said the ceremony was held at the Buddhist Meditation Center in Phsar Dek commune and ran from Thursday until Sunday morning.
Mr. Limhav estimated that hundreds of thousands of people attended the ceremony, causing traffic jams on Saturday afternoon.
“They felt pity and attended with generosity and their kind hearts based on Buddhism,” he said.
On February 6, 2003, Sam Bunthoeun, 47, was fatally shot outside Wat Langka by two men on a motorcycle. He was struck by two bullets to his chest, and died two days later at Calmette Hospital. His killers have never been identified, making the monk’s one of a litany of suspected political assassinations that remain unresolved.
Sam Bunthoeun, who founded and headed the Buddhist Meditation Center of Odong, was one of the country’s leading Buddhist figures at the time of his death. Those close to him said that he was not a political person and did not have any enemies.
However, Graham Watson, a European Parliament member for the U.K’s Liberal Democrats at that time, said at a press conference in Phnom Penh that the killing was “no doubt an attempt to intimidate Buddhist monks against registering for the election.”
Suspicions that the murder had political motivations were further stoked by an order from the CPP-aligned supreme patriarchs preventing monks from speaking out about the killing.
Sok Chea, 35, a monk at the Buddhist Meditation Center, said on Sunday that although he never met Sam Bunthoeun, he had great respect for the monk.
“He said what he saw. If it was right, he would say it’s right, but if he saw wrong, he would say it was wrong,” he said. “He said the truth.”
Mr. Chea said he did not know much about the murder, but believed that authorities had deliberately not done enough to arrest those responsible.
“If they [the authorities] tried, they would be able to find them, but if they do not try, they will not be able to find them.”
Sok Khemrin, head of the Interior Ministry’s penal department, said that he was not directly involved with the case, and not aware of any new information, but defended the fruitless investigation.
“It is not fast like in the movies,” he said. “Myself, all the leaders, as well as local officials, they are trying very hard.”
Sam Kong, 68, the sister of Sam Bunthoeun, said she felt at ease now that her brother had finally been put to rest, and had already forgiven the killers.
“I never think about that,” she said of the investigation into the murder. “Please, the one who killed him, find happiness. I don’t want to have a grudge against someone.”