Tensions Flare Up Over Mosque Road Plans

Tensions over a new road planned next to a prominent Phnom Penh mosque flared on Friday as members of the area’s Muslim community demolished temporary fencing used to cordon off land allocated for the development.

More than 100 men emerged from the new Al-Serkal Mosque after midday prayers and spent an hour kicking down metal fencing installed by City Hall after crews began surveying the road earlier this week.

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Protesters gather outside the Al-Serkal Mosque in Phnom Penh on Friday in opposition to City Hall’s proposal to build a new road through its land. (Siv Channa/Cambodia Daily)

“I won’t allow a road to be built here,” said John Ly, who helped raze sections of the fence and vowed to do so again if it was rebuilt.

“I remember Samdech Hun Sen saying there were to be no roads built around pagodas or mosques, so why are they building around our Muslim mosque?” Mr. Ly asked.

City Hall’s plan to construct the road—effectively splitting a plot of land belonging to the mosque—have divided worshippers into op­posing groups led by two of the country’s most influential Cham Muslims.

Social Affairs Ministry Secretary of State Ahmad Yahya has supported protesters calling on the government to shift the road’s trajectory a further 5 meters away from the mosque to avoid disrupting prayers.

But Mr. Yahya’s counterpart at the Labor Ministry, Othsman Hassan, has said he is in support of the current proposal, which would see pavement laid less than 50 meters from the building’s front steps in the eviction-hit Boeng Kak neighborhood.

Mr. Yahya was found guilty of defaming Mr. Hassan in August after claiming Mr. Hassan was personally benefitting from the construction.

About 20 Daun Penh district se­curity guards watched on Friday as protesters voiced their support for the ruling CPP, but urged the government to show “respect for us” by reconsidering the proposal.

City Hall spokesman Mean Chanyada said construction had been suspended to allow officials to meet with community members to explain how they would benefit from the road, which would lead to a private condominium and a golf course development.

“This happened because two groups within the mosque do not get along about the plan,” he said.

Deputy Phnom Penh governor Khuong Sreng said officials would review the damage to the fencing and consider taking legal action.

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