Villagers Block Man’s Burial Wish

More than 100 villagers in Kompong Thom province blocked a funeral procession in Stung Sen City on Saturday to prevent the burial of a recently deceased ethnic Vietnamese man on land he owned in the vicinity of a local primary school, villagers and an officials said.

Bun Meas, 56, ran an auto-repair garage and coffee shop before his death last week from liver disease, according to Chhum Phan, Damrei Choankhla commune police chief, adding that he had originally bought the land with the intention of building a house.

Parents, teachers and students from Rolous primary school protested his funeral on Saturday morning after learning his dying wish was to be buried near the school, 61-year-old villager Hem Sorphoan said, as they feared it would frighten children in a community where cremation is the norm.

“According to his daughter, he left a message with her requesting to be buried on land that he bought in the village because he had many adopted relatives here,” he said. “But when he was alive, he said that he wanted to buy the land to build a house—not to build a house for dead bodies.”

Vietnamese Buddhists traditionally bury their dead. Though it is not proscribed in Cambodian Buddhism, cremation is the prevalent funeral practice, while syncretic animistic beliefs in spirits can provoke fear of the ghosts of the dead.

The villagers said no bodies had ever been buried outside of the local pagoda and permitting a grave on land that is only 20 meters from the school gate would leave their children too afraid to go to lessons as they must walk past the land on the quiet road that leads to the school.

“The school was built in 1979 for students to study and be happy in and it is supposed to be an enjoyable place for our kids, not a place to be feared,” Mr. Sorphoan added.

Commune chief Som Thy and village chief Chet Cheak said that after almost two hours of discussions Monday with villagers, police and local authorities, the family of the deceased agreed to move the burial place to Rolous pagoda after its chief Buddhist monk granted a plot of land.

“In the end, the body was buried in the pagoda instead of the land that he had bought,” Mr. Cheak said.

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