Harassment of monks and their supporters, who are marching to Phnom Penh to participate in International Human Rights Day rallies in the capital, continued Friday when three suburban utility vehicles were used to block the entrance to a pagoda in Kompong Speu province where marchers had planned to rest for the night.
The blocking of the Salon Purthivong pagoda’s entrance with the three vehicles—a Lexus, a Mitsubishi Pajero and a Toyota Highlander—which belonged to senior monks based in the province, prompted the more than 65 marchers to block National Road 4, which connects Phnom Penh to Preah Sihanouk province on the coast, for about two hours.
The abbot of Salon Purthivong pagoda had given permission for the marchers to stay the night, said the venerable Prim Huon, 25, who is leading the march to Phnom Penh from Kompong Speu province.
“But provincial and district monks and officials and authorities did not allow us to sleep there,” Prim Huon said, explaining that the local officials and senior monks had instructed their drivers to block the entrance to the pagoda.
“Marchers blocked National Road 4 to ask the authorities to hold discussions to find a solution. We don’t want those authorities to place pressure on the chief monk of this pagoda,” Prim Huon said.
Abbot Hoeung Sitha confirmed that he had given permission for the marchers to enter his pagoda.
“I am concerned that provincial and district monks and officials will accuse me of allowing the marches to sleep in my pagoda,” he said.
“I allowed them to sleep in my pagoda because I see that we are all Khmer.”
Samroang Tong district police chief Khut Sophal confirmed that the marchers had blocked the road in retaliation to being blocked from entering the pagoda. He also said that the district governor had negotiated with the marchers to end the blockade, but he declined to comment further.
Song Srey Leap, an anti-eviction activist from Phnom Penh’s Boeng Kak community who is participating in the march from Kompong Speu, said that following the talks with the governor, she and her fellow marchers and monks were allowed to enter the pagoda.
“Why did they not allow us to sleep in the pagoda when the chief monk allowed us?” she asked.
Similar reports of harassment have emerged from monks and their supporters making their way to Phnom Penh along National roads 5 and 6.
About 100 monks are leading the 10-day Peace Walk to Phnom Penh, which began on Sunday, at various points along five national roads leading to the capital.
Participants are calling on the government to respect human rights, end land evictions and investigate irregularities in the July national election, which saw Prime Minister Hun Sen’s CPP suffer a thumping from the opposition CNRP at the polls.