Vietnam demolishes a lecture hall linked to Khmer Krom pagoda

The pagoda’s abbot was arrested last week for ‘abusing democratic freedoms.’
By RFA Vietnamese and Khmer
2024.04.01
Vietnam demolishes a lecture hall linked to Khmer Krom pagoda Police use excavators to demolish the lecture hall of Dai Tho Pagoda in Tam Binh district, Vinh Long province, Laos, on April 1, 2024.
Images from Son Chengchon video via Facebook

A week after arresting its abbot, Vietnamese authorities on Monday demolished a lecture hall linked to a Buddhist pagoda serving the Khmer Krom indigenous people in southern Vietnam, claiming it was built illegally in 2020.

Video from the scene showed an excavator moving rubble from the front of the broken-down facade of the lecture hall linked to the Dai Tho pagoda, or the Tro Nom Sek pagoda in Khmer.

Just last week, authorities arrested the pagoda’s abbot Thach Chanh Da Ra on charges of “abusing democratic freedoms.”

“It was very savage and cruel of them to destroy the lecture hall that local people have built over the past few years,” a follower told RFA Vietnamese. "This regime is unbearable!” 

On Monday, around 100 police officers appeared at the pagoda to prevent residents from accessing it as six excavators demolished it, a Buddhist follower who did not witness the destruction but heard from relatives about it, told RFA Vietnamese on condition of anonymity like all unnamed sources in this report.

The lecture hall did not have the proper permit at the time of its construction, another resident told RFA.

The resident said the land was donated to the pagoda by Thach Thi Xa Bach, and Ra’s request for a permit was rejected because authorities said the land belonged to Thach Thi Oi, Bach’s younger sister.

‘Endless tears’

The Khmer Krom indigenous community, numbering about 1.3 million people, live in a part of Vietnam that was once southeastern Cambodia. They face discrimination in Vietnam and suspicion in Cambodia, where they are often perceived not as Cambodians but as Vietnamese. 

Police were out in force during the demolition to prevent Khmer Krom from trying to stop the excavators by occupying the building, a Khmer Krom woman told RFA Khmer.

"Khmer Krom people have endless tears and suffering from mistreatment,” she said, adding that the demolition of the lecture hall was a form of abuse. 

“We Khmer Krom are very miserable,” she said. “Today, the Vietnamese authorities brought a lot of dogs with them ready to bite us."

The Khmer Kampuchea Krom Federation said that the actions of the Vietnamese authorities were discriminatory and that the authorities aim to eradicate the Khmer Krom people.

"Vietnamese authorities destroying the center is an attempt to… prevent the Khmer Krom from respecting the Buddhist traditions,” Son Yeung Ratana, the head of the  Information Department of the Khmer Krom Federation, told RFA. “The lecture hall building was far from the pagoda. It was built to help people that could not travel very far.” 

RFA attempted to contact the Vietnamese Embassy in Cambodia and the Tam Binh district police, but neither responded. Staff at the Vinh Long provincial police said that information could only be given out in person.

Translated by Anna Vu and Sum Sok Ry. Edited by Eugene Whong and Malcolm Foster.

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