Cablegate: Pm's Bodyguard Leads Monks in Path Towards Harmonious

Published: Mon 11 Dec 2006 11:13 AM
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1. (SBU) Summary. Hing Bun Heang, the Commander of the Prime
Minister's Personal Bodyguard Unit, was appointed in September 2006
as Supreme Consultant to a newly formed Monk Assembly, which is
designed to investigate and resolve disputes involving monks across
Cambodia. The Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC) announced Bun
Heang's appointment shortly after Cambodia's most senior Buddhist
monk reversed his 2002 ban prohibiting all monks from voting.
Observers believe Hing Bun Heang's appointment is designed to
monitor the activities of monks who do not support the CPP, and
stifle opposition political activity among Cambodia's main religious
body. End Summary.
Hing Bun Heang's Role in a Monk Assembly
2. (SBU) According to a September 6, 2006 subdecree, Hun Sen
appointed General Hing Bun Heang, Commander of the PM's Personal
Bodyguard Unit, to be the Supreme Consultant to a newly formed Monk
Assembly. Bun Heang said in an October 24 press report that his
role in the religious council would be to advise the assembly on
conflict resolution. He added he was appointed to the post because
of his experience with Buddhist principles, although Post notes
there is no evidence he has been ordained and served as a monk.
3. (SBU) Bun Heang was appointed as Supreme Consultant two weeks
after the Government approved the formation of a Monk Assembly upon
a request from Venerable Tep Vong, Supreme Patriarch of Buddhist
Monks. The PM's subdecree issued on August 24, 2006, approved the
formation of a Monk Assembly which, according to Article 1, is
designed to act as the supreme organization to settle all disputes
related to Buddhism in Cambodia. Article 2 states that the Assembly
is led by a composition of eight ranking monks from different
pagodas in and around Phnom Penh. The assembly reportedly will
function like a court; it will investigate and adjudicate conflicts
among monks or between monks and laymen across Cambodia.
4. (SBU) Hing Bun Heang's appointment comes shortly after Tep
Vong's August 2006 directive lifting his June 2002 prohibition on
monks' voting in elections. On November 29, this ban was formally
lifted during the annual Buddhist Monk Congress in Phnom Penh;
during this same Congress, Tep Vong warned monks against
participating in any mass political movement critical of the
5. (SBU) There is some recent history of monks clashing with their
political and religious leaders. In early 2003, the head monk of
the historic Wat Lanka, Sam Bun Thoeun, was shot dead near his
pagoda after he encouraged monks to register to vote in defiance of
Tep Vong's ban. A few years earlier, some monks were severely
injured by police who used violence to disperse a rally in Phnom
Penh protesting the 1998 election results. Four monks were listed
among 53 victims of "politically motivated disappearances" after
those same demonstrations.
Comments from Another Member of the Assembly
6. (SBU) Venerable Chhoeung Bun Chhear, one of the eight senior
monks in the new Monk Assembly and Director of Supreme Patriarch Tep
Vong's Cabinet, compared the function of the Assembly to the Supreme
Court in Cambodia. Bun Chhear stated that the Assembly was formed
to settle disputes between monks and lay people in the Mohanikay
sect. He could not answer why Hing Bun Heang had been named to the
assembly. (Note: Cambodian Theravada Buddhism is composed of two
sects: Mohanikay and Thamayuthikak Nikay. Tep Vong leads the
Mohanikay sect which manages the vast majority of monks and pagodas
in Cambodia. Bou Kry, a mentor of King Sihamoni, leads the
Thamayuthikak Nikay sect, which is primarily confined to the
religious affairs of the royal family. The monk assembly will
oversee only the Mohanikay monks. End Note.)
SRP MP Voices Concern
7. (SBU) Opposition Sam Rainsy Party MP Ho Vann believes Bun
Heang's appointment was politically motivated and designed to
maintain CPP control over Cambodia's most prominent religious order.
The Phnom Penh MP commented that Bun Heang's appointment, as well
as the work of the Assembly, could become a concern for Buddhist
monks who do not support the ruling CPP. If embroiled in disputes,
Ho Van warned that anti-CPP monks could be targeted by the Assembly
and the Consultant. According to Ho Van, a sizeable number of monks
in both urban and rural areas support the SRP. He further explained
that some head monks permit human rights NGOs to use their pagodas
for meetings; Bun Heang's appointment could be an attempt to stop
this practice. The Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) had
staged public forums at pagodas, but Tep Vorn ordered all pagodas
off limits for political purposes in late 2004/early 2005.
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8. (SBU) With respect to the eight-member composition of the
Assembly, Ho Van said at least three members - Chhoeung Bun Chhear,
Noy Chhrek, and Moung Ra - are CPP supporters. Tep Vong, himself,
is the former Vice-President of the People's Republic of Kampuchea,
the name of the country in the early 1980s under Vietnamese
occupation. He recently asked monks to thank the CPP for liberating
Cambodia from the Khmer Rouge.
9. (SBU) Concerning the voter registration period that ended on
October 24, Ho Van estimated approximately 10% of monks in Phnom
Penh were registered to vote for the coming elections, compared with
90% in the countryside. Regarding the discrepancy, Ho Van said many
head monks in Phnom Penh pagodas had not permitted monks under their
supervision to register; monks need their monk ID card as well as
residence permits to register. Whereas, monk ID cards are easily
obtainable, head monks may be slow or reluctant to issue or update
residence documents.
Civil Society Echos Concerns on Appointment
10. (SBU) Though he regarded the creation of a Monk Assembly as a
positive development, Kul Panha, Executive Director of the Committee
of Free and Fair Elections (COMFREL), stated that Hing Bun Heang's
appointment could be intimidating to monks and discourage them from
participating in politics. Hang Punthear, Director of the Neutral,
Impartial, Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia
(NICFEC), added that Bun Heang cannot be a neutral party in
politically-related conflicts.
11. (SBU) Punthear went on to add he has been told that 20 monks
living in Svay Pope Pagoda were unable to register to vote when the
head monk failed to issue them residence certificates. Puthear
stated that he was told the head monk is a CPP supporter and wanted
the monks to join the CPP; however, the 20 monks refused to do so.
The Monk Assembly is charged with judging conflicts such as these --
but with a politically aligned composition, neutral judgments will
be unlikely.
12. (SBU) Post will monitor the development of this new monk
institution but Hing Bun Heang's affiliation to it is disturbing.
We concur with sources who believe that the CPP intends to keep firm
control over potential political agitation within the main Buddhist
religious order like all other important national institutions in
Cambodia. End Comment.
13. (SBU) Bio note: In late 2005, Hing Bun Heang filed a lawsuit
against Sam Rainsy's wife Tioulong Saumura and former SRP
Secretary-General Eng Chhay Eang, for their alleged roles in the
distribution of a DVD that implicated Hing Bun Heang in the 1997
grenade attack against Rainsy and other opposition protesters across
from the National Assembly. The case is still pending at Phnom Penh
Municipal Court but Post has learned that government lawyers have
agreed to take no further action in the case.
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