Some 230 students residing at six Buddhist pagodas in Phnom Penh have put their names to a petition denouncing the CPP-backed Pagoda Boys association, which they describe as a politically motivated group of troublemakers.
Students who earlier this week signed the petition said they were compelled to dissociate from the Pagoda Boys, who they accuse of using violence to disrupt peaceful demonstrations by students and workers.
The petition, a copy of which was received Thursday, follows warnings on Sunday by the Pagoda Boys against Funcinpec President Prince Norodom Ranariddh, who they accuse of making insulting remarks regarding students who live at Buddhist temples. Funcinpec officials have said the prince’s comments have been taken out of context.
“We are pagoda students in Phnom Penh. We would like to deny the Pagoda Boys’ statement that uses pagoda students as tools to support and protect a small group of dictators,” the petition says.
“In fact, they are not real pagoda students. They are glue-sniffing gang boys who were bought to be used as a political tool, so their activities are contrary to our aspirations,” the signed and thumb-printed petition said.
“Their real acts defamed pagoda students…and devalues monks, Buddhism and confuses international opinion,” it says.
The petition was signed by students from Wat Lanka, Wat Ounalom, Wat Salvorn, Wat Moha Montrei, Wat Chin Damdek and Wat Neak Voan.
Seng Sovannara, president of the Pagoda Childrens’, Intelligentsia and Students Association—better known as the Pagoda Boys—said he had not seen the petition and declined to comment on the petition and its allegations on Thursday.
The 4,000-strong Pagoda Boys have fashioned themselves as a youth defense league against elements in Cambodian society critical of the Hun Sen government.
They regularly descend on protests and demonstrations by workers unions and student movements. Violence has broken out at several such counter-demonstrations organized by the Pagoda Boys.
The Pagoda Boys receive funding from the government each year, but have denied they take direct orders from the CPP.
Critics say they appear to work in concert with police and other security forces when organizing counter-demonstrations.
Lay Van Say, who identified himself as a student at the Royal University of Phnom Penh and spokesman for those who signed the petition at Wat Ounalom, said he wanted to protect the values of pagoda boys who do not engage in violence.
“I am not satisfied with their activities. They use our names against Prince Norodom Ranariddh, King [Norodom] Sihanouk and Jayavarman VII,” Lay Van Say said by telephone.
“I am an independent student, neither a [supporter] of Funcinpec nor the Sam Rainsy Party,” he said.
Mao Veasna, who claimed he represented students at Wat Moha Montrei, said by phone Thursday that all those who signed the petition did so voluntarily.
“We did this to deny the Pagoda Boys’ association using our name to defame students and destroy society,” he said.
Funcinpec issued a statement Wednesday replying to accusations by the Pagoda Boys that Prince Ranariddh had insulted young people who reside at temples.
The prince’s comments, broadcast on the royalist radio station, were aimed solely at the author of a recent letter—who identified himself as a pagoda boy—that attacked King Sihanouk’s lifelong friend Ruom Ritt and claimed Hun Sen’s achievements surpassed all previous Khmer kings.
The prince “did not look down on pagoda students,” the Funcinpec statement said. “The Funcinpec secretariat feels so sorry for the interpretation beyond the meaning of Prince Ranariddh’s speech.”