Monk Launches Campaign Against LDP Leader Khem Veasna

The chief monk of a Phnom Penh pagoda has launched a petition campaign against the outspoken leader of a minor opposition party claiming that he has continuously insulted monks, the Buddhist religion and the Khmer people.

Hor Sokhon, chief monk of Wat Pur Prasat, also known as Wat Chbar Ampov, announced his crusade against Khem Veasna, president of the League for Democracy Party (LDP), on Thursday, and said on Monday that he had collected more than 300 thumbprints from monks and others. He plans to spend at least two months gathering support nationwide before filing a complaint to the Interior Ministry. If the government did not take action, a court complaint would be his last resort, Hor Sokhon said.

League for Democracy Party President Khem Veasna. (Hannah Hawkins/The Cambodia Daily)

Mr. Veasna admitted on Monday he had been critical of some monks, but only the ones who solicit donations for personal gain.

Hor Sokhon took issue with Mr. Veasna’s use of social media to scold monks, including himself, and cited the politician’s use of the phrase “bag thieves” to describe monks who greedily collect donations in their satchels as a heinous insult.

“Generally, this phrase refers to monks that have no morals,” the chief monk said. “With just these words, he is guilty already.”

Mr. Veasna had also called kathin—in which worshippers give gifts or donations to monks—“a waste of money,” he added.

Mr. Veasna pointed out that he was Buddhist himself and monks were among the LDP’s faithful. He was not complaining about all monks, but those that twist his words and the Buddha’s teachings, and take advantage of followers, he said.

“This is a tragedy in Khmer society because we spend a lot of money on religious ceremony. They believe. They don’t use their brain,” he said. “Because of their belief, they spend a lot of money…that causes the Cambodian people to become poor.”

Mr. Veasna said he counted Hor Sokhon among the monks who exploit people’s religious beliefs to accrue donations.

“He tries to collect the money from the people,” he said.

In June, a businessman filed a complaint with the Phnom Penh Municipal Court against Mr. Veasna, accusing him of publicly insulting the Khmer race over comments the LDP leader made earlier this year. Mr. Veasna said on Monday that he had not been summoned to court for questioning.

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