Buddhist mob 'burns church'

Phnom Penh, Cambodia - Some 300 Buddhist villagers, apparently angered by a rival faith within their community, have razed a partially built Christian church to the ground, near the Cambodian capital, says an official on Tuesday.

Ros Sithoeun, a representative of the area's Christian community, said that in a rare act of religious intolerance, the mob chanted "Destroy the church!" and "Long live Buddhism!" as it descended upon the unfinished Protestant Church on Friday in Boeng Krum Leu, 30km east of Phnom Penh.

Che Saren, the chief of Lvea Em district, said the Buddhists felt threatened by the visible presence of another faith.

The church would have been the area's second, but there was only one Buddhist pagoda to serve the spiritual needs of the overwhelmingly Buddhist community.

Church destroyed with hammers, sticks

Che Saren said: "The villagers were angry with the Christians in the village who they felt mocked their Buddhist beliefs."

The building was nearing completion when the villagers destroyed it with hammers and sticks. The structure - situated only 700 metres from the Buddhist pagoda - was torn down and the rubble torched by the mob.

Sithoeun said that Kandal provincial officials denied planning permission for a church in Lvea Em, but the Christian community - which numbered between 20 and 30 - pressed ahead with the construction, determined to use it as accommodation for religious teachers prior to converting it to a church at an unspecified future date.

Religious freedom

Sithoeun said: "The Buddhists didn't want us to build the Christian church in their community. They were afraid that their practice of Buddhism would be negatively affected."

The Christians had not complained to the police - neither to recoup the lost investment in the now defunct church, nor to demand the arrest of the mob.

Saren said that the two sides came to a peaceful compromise after authorities gave them a lecture on the law of religious freedom.

Cambodian Buddhists, which made up more than 90% of the population, were generally tolerant of other religions and all faiths had been allowed to freely practice in Cambodia, except during the Khmer Rouge era after adherents to all religions were persecuted.