A tense standoff between authorities and Sam Rainsy grew Wednesday as military police twice removed and destroyed memorial stupas honoring 1997 grenade attack victims only to have the opposition leader put a new stupa in its place.
One of the stupas was dumped into the Tonle Sap river early Wednesday morning after opposition party members were allegedly held at gunpoint, while another stupa was removed and destroyed amid a shoving match between military police and Sam Rainsy parliamentarians.
Not since the Khmer Rouge regime have stupas been desecrated in such a way in Cambodia, Sam Rainsy said.
“Only Pol Pot destroyed the stupas…and now the same thing is happening with this government. It is very cruel,” he said.
Phnom Penh Governor Chea Sophara, however, reiterated that the stupa was unauthorized, and said Wednesday night that he will remove as many stupas as Sam Rainsy builds. Chea Sophara also accused the opposition leader of using the memories of the dead as propaganda.
“We must consider the grenade victim’s families. Some of them complained with the local authority not to allow Sam Rainsy put the stupa on the sidewalk in front of the National Assembly. The families want the stupa in a pagoda,” Chea Sophara said.
Chea Sophara said the stupa can be erected without incident at nearby Wat Botum or beneath a Bodhi tree on the opposite side of the park from the National Assembly.
By late Wednesday night, a stupa built at lunch time Wednesday was still standing and Sam Rainsy vowed to sleep nearby with volunteers to protect it.