Threat to Ruom Ritt Sparks Calls for Action

Funcinpec officials have called on the Interior Ministry to arrest members of the pro-Hun Sen Pagoda Boys for allegedly writing a letter lashing King Norodom Sihanouk’s childhood friend Ruom Ritt and insulting past royal rulers.

In a strongly worded letter to Deputy Prime Minister and co-Interior Minister Sar Kheng, royalist parliamentarian Ok Socheat said that the Pagoda Boys had distorted Cambodian history and insulted Khmer kings, and that their letter was a serious violation of the Cambodian constitution.

“I would like to propose that the Ministry of Interior takes legal measures against the Pagoda Boys’ Association and apprehends the distributor of the letter,” Ok Socheat wrote to Sar Kheng.

“The meaning of the Pagoda Boys’ association letter is intended to distort the history of the Kingdom of Cambodia by seriously and unjustly, insulting and criticizing King Jayavarman VII and other Khmer kings,” Ok Socheat wrote in the letter ap­proved by Prince Norodom Ran­ariddh.

A representative of the Pagoda Boys denied Friday that they authored the letter and said that they were searching for the culprits who had framed their organization.

Funcinpec’s call for action coincides with the publication in a newspaper Friday of the letter containing threats against Ruom Ritt for criticizing Hun Sen. The letter also stated that no king had done as much for the country as Hun Sen.

“Some people have said that Ruom Ritt is the Khmer King. For us, as members of the Pagoda Boys’ association, no matter who Ruom Ritt is, our stance absolutely is to protect the dignity of Samdech Prime Minister Hun Sen,” the letter stated.

“Even though [Hun Sen] was not born in the Royal Family, he rules the country better than other royals. It can be said that in Cambodian history, no kings have been able to do as [Hun Sen] did,” the author added.

The author added that “Jaya­varman VII, who is considered a great king, built Angkor Wat temple for his own [interest], but not for the citizens.”

The letter closed: “We would like to warn Ruom Ritt to stop criticizing [Hun Sen]. If Ruom Ritt is still stubborn, [he] will receive the consequences.”

Ruom Ritt is known to be a life-long friend of King Sihanouk who lives at the foot of France’s Pyrenees Mountains, but the threats against him will be complicated by the fact that many local and foreign observers believe Ruom Ritt is in fact the King writing under a pseudonym.

The inviolability of King Si­hanouk is enshrined in the Cam­bodian Constitution.

Seng Sovannara, president of the Pagoda Boys’ association, denied on Friday any knowledge of the letter which he claimed was a fake.

The authors did not use his organization’s letterhead paper nor its full title: the Pagoda Chil­dren’s, Intelligentsia and Students Association, said Seng Sovan­nara, adding that the person who signed the letter, Ruom Rik, also was not a member of his organization.

“Last night I called our steering committee to check all 27 pagodas, but none have the name Ruom Rik as alleged. So I think some people have the intention to ruin the image and reputation of our association,” he said.

“We are investigating which individual or group was involved,” he added.

Deputy Municipal Police Chief Heng Pov said Friday he had not been informed of the letter or the complaint from the royalist party.

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 “counter-demonstrations” organized by the Pagoda Boys.

A fully-recognized NGO, the Pagoda Boys receive funding from the government each year, but have denied taking direct orders from Hun Sen’s ruling CPP.

However, critics of the Pagoda Boys say they appear to work in concert with police and other security forces when organizing counter-demonstrations.

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