Eleven monks in Kampong Speu province have escaped to avoid being defrocked by the provincial monk council after authorities found that they were involved in state forest land encroachment.
Phnom Sruoch district’s deputy chief monk Venerable Nou Chin told The Post on December 8 that the provincial authorities had torn down some hermitages built illegally by the monks in the Kirirom National Park area.
The construction was led by Sam Norn, the former monk at the Buddhist Cultural Centre within the National Park areas.
After finding that the hermitages were built without approval from relevant authorities, the provincial hall issued a letter through the provincial Department of Religions and Cults, requesting the provincial monk council to take action according to the Buddhist discipline.
“The provincial monk council defrocked five monks, but Venerable Sam Norn and 10 other monks escaped,” Chin said.
Norn could not be reached for comment on December 8.
Chin said some monks have been building hermitages in the Kirirom National Park area illegally, under the incitement of traders who wanted to grab state land in the area by using the monks as a shield.
Provincial governor Vei Samnang told The Post on December 8 there were two pagodas and one Buddhist Cultural Centre in the Kirirom National Park area. These places are destinations for some local Buddhist followers and travellers from near and afar to observe traditional and religious ceremonies.
Throughout the province, there are over 300 pagodas and 26 meditation centres.
“I believe that there are brokers mobilising residents and monks in the areas to encroach on land in the Kirirom National Park by building the hermitages. But our police were aware of their tricks and stop their activities promptly,” he said.
Samnang added that over the last two years, the provincial authorities have cracked down and seized 600ha of forest land from traders and opportunists.
He said these perpetrators had illegally occupied and cleared the land for private ownership, but the authorities had now reclaimed the land as state property.
“Our authorities will not relent in searching for and cracking down on such offences and natural resource crimes, especially concerning the encroachment on state forest land for private ownership,” he said.