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Protestant Church Attacked For Allegedly ´Causing´ Drought


August 04 2003

Villagers in southeastern Cambodia ransacked a Protestant church after a fortune-teller reportedly told them the church´s presence was the reason for a three-year drought in the area.

On July 13, an estimated 200 Buddhist villagers destroyed property at the church in Svay Prouhot village in Svay Rieng province, close to Cambodia´s border with Vietnam, according to sources in the area. The vast majority of Cambodia´s people are Buddhists.

Monsignor Antonysamy Susairaj, apostolic prefect of Kompong Cham, which covers eastern Cambodia, told UCA News the village is not far from an active Catholic community in Svay Rieng, 110 kilometers southeast of Phnom Penh. He said Providence Sister Marie-Alain, leader of the Catholic community, confirmed the attack on the church.

According to the nun, he said, the Protestant church was built in the village three years ago and the area has suffered a drought since then. Some days before the attack, village leaders went to an "acha," or fortune-teller, at the local Buddhist temple to ask his advice. The fortune-teller blamed the drought on the presence of the Christian church in the village.

Sister Marie-Alain could not confirm the denomination of the Protestant church, but she reported that people destroyed some windows, tables, electrical wires, fans and many Bibles.

Monsignor Susairaj said he received a phone call from the Vatican asking him about the incident after reports by a Rome-based Catholic news agency suggested that a Catholic church had been targeted.

According to other sources, pastors of the attacked church had stirred resentment by criticizing Buddhist practices such as giving alms to monks and long litanies during temple services.

UCA News spoke to various Protestant leaders about the incident and local pastor Reverend Chet Tra told UCA News her community was now "quite afraid."

She said she would try to establish a dialogue with village leaders through the police to cultivate better understanding among the parties involved.

Reverend Chet Tra speculated that local people overreacted to the remarks of the fortune-teller. She said she had not heard of any disrespect on the part of the Christians of the village toward their Buddhist counterparts.

An official of the Baptist Church in the region told UCA News that all Christian Churches in Cambodia are concerned about the incident and "are united in prayer." He could not give further details about what happened.

Reverend Moc Waimong of the Anglican Church in Phnom Penh was unavailable for comment, but his secretary told UCA News that "everything is under control now."

Father Francois Ponchaud, a member of the Paris Foreign Missions Society, told UCA News that the incident, whatever actually happened, is a reminder for all Christians in the country to respect local culture and Buddhism.