Cambodia: Official Denies Rumors of Buddhist Institute Sale

By Khuon Narim, Cambodia Daily, May 28, 2014

Phnom Penh, Cambodia -- An official at the Ministry of Cults and Religion on Tuesday held a press conference to deny rumors that the government has sold or swapped the Buddhist Institute in Phnom Penh to a private firm.

Speaking at a press conference at the ministry, Seng Somony, an undersecretary of state, denied that the land in Chamkar Mon district’s Tonle Basac commune is slated to become a parking lot for NagaWorld Casino.

“For the land here, we have no rental or swap,” he said.

NagaWorld is currently building an underground road beneath the Buddhist Institute that will connect its current hotel and casino to its new, nearby resort to be completed by the end of 2015.

The Buddhist Institute’s front gate was recently demolished to allow the underground construction to go forward but the company has promised to later rebuild it. Construction fences have also popped up above ground, splitting the Buddhist Institute’s land down the middle, where some say the parking lot may be coming.

But Mr. Somony said at Tuesday’s press conference that the construction is not for a NagaWorld parking lot, but rather for an electricity network to feed power to nearby Koh Pich.

“We have a permission letter to manage an electricity network” next to the Buddhist Institute, he said. “We need to develop electricity to connect to Koh Pich, a city that is developing and using much electricity.”

But Buntenh, who heads the Independent Monks’ Network for Social Justice, said by telephone that he did not believe the ministry official’s comments that a land swap is not in the works and said that the Buddhist Institute’s gate had been damaged by construction.

“I will lead some 1,000 monks to protest at the ministry on Friday to call for an end to the construction,” he said. “We have heard Buddhist Institute will swap away with a company.”

At the press conference, Mr. Somony preempted But Buntenh’s criticism and said that any damage caused by the building of NagaWorld’s underground road will be repaired by the company.

“I am not accusing him, but usually he’s a person who doesn’t know what’s really going on and he answers following his own feelings without any documents in his hand,” Mr. Somony said.