Hun Manet, a prime ministerial candidate for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, said beliefs in any superstition should be properly considered, as extremism can lead to rifts in families.
Manet – currently Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) and Commander of the Royal Cambodian Army – made the remarks in light of a recent large gathering fuelled by the doomsday predictions of League for Democracy Party (LDP) leader Khem Veasna.
Thousands of Veasna’s followers had gathered at his plantation in Siem Reap province’s Banteay Srey district to avoid the purported apocalypse. Veasna’s appeal drew not only his supporters in the country but also migrant workers abroad, in particular South Korea, Japan and Thailand.
Most of them have disbanded in compliance with the authorities’ September 5 ultimatum, though some have lingered on at a nearby farm belonging to one of Veasna’s associates.
“Beliefs are one thing, but excessive beliefs can disown brothers, sisters and parents. I think that although our beliefs differ, a sense of morality and virtue means we should always remember that our parents are our parents, and our family is our family,” he said.
He added that beliefs are personal rights, but they should not be extreme. He also expressed concern over the gathering at Veasna’s plantation, saying these kinds of activities could lead to terrible outcomes. Other countries had experienced similar issues, he said.
“They went to gather at the farm of Veasna’s associate Chan Pinith. We were very concerned originally, but until now we did not know how bad it could get. There are divisions in families and between spouses because of a difference in beliefs, but we must not break our familial bonds.
“To those parents who say they will disown their children when they return home, do not be so fixed in your views, but reconcile. There is nothing that should cause such strong divisions in a family,” he said.
Cambodian Mine Action Centre (CMAC) director-general Heng Ratana said the initial appeals and the resulting gathering were the result of someone sowing morality and beliefs which are contrary to the truth, in an attempt to change social attitudes to say the least, which in turn could disrupt public order.
He likened the case to the Khmer Rouge, which promoted divisions in families by nurturing a culture of discrimination.
Ratana added that he still remembered the brutal killing of people and the cries of parents and grandparents because the Khmer Rouge leaders groomed and sowed a culture of class struggle. They were against feudal society, the monarchy, capitalists, professionals such as doctors and teachers, government officials and members of the armed forces, foreigners and especially monks or members of the clergy, he said.
“When led by an unscrupulous leader a small group of people can grow into a crowd which behaves unthinkably. Without proper and timely measures, such movements can lead to serious social crises,” he said.
Ratana added that the results of acts which drove children to hate their parents could be seen in Cambodia’s past.
In a new development after most of the doomsday believers disbanded, Veasna’s associate Pinith has asked Siem Reap provincial governor Tea Seiha to take action against those who lingered on at his plantation.
In a September 6 letter, Pinith urged that authorities disperse them from where they have occupied.
“I ask that the provincial governor help intervene or pursue legal action so that they will leave my plantation,” the letter read.
Seiha confirmed on September 7 that he had received the letter, but noted that his authorities were already slowly disbanding the gathering.
“On September 6 and on the morning of September 7, between 300 and 400 supporters left. It is my estimate that an estimated 1,000 supporters remain at the plantation land of Chan Pinith, including those who tend the farm,” he added.
As to measures against those who remained, Seiha said he was waiting to see what the results of discussions with Pinith would be.
“I need to know to what extent Pinith takes responsibility for those who stay there, although I note that he is paying attention to easing the living conditions of those on his land,” he added.
Seiha concluded that the reason some supporters refused to leave the land was likely because of their support for and belief in Veasna, although he suggested that some may not be able to afford to return home.
Separately, Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training spokesman Heng Sour said that since August 27, no workers had returned from abroad to join the gathering.
“When Khem Veasna first made the appeal, Cambodian workers in South Korea, Japan and Thailand returned between August 23 and 26. Those were the last days we noted any returning migrant workers,” he said, noting that approximately 500 workers returned from South Korea and Japan on the heels of Veasna’s appeal.