Buddhist villagers burn Christian church in 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, an official said Tuesday. 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 Friday in Boeng Krum Leu, 30 kilometers (18 miles) east of Phnom Penh, said Ros Sithoeun, a representative of the area's Christian community.

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 is only one Buddhist pagoda to serve the spiritual needs of the overwhelmingly Buddhist community. "The villagers were angry with the Christians in the village who they felt mocked their Buddhist beliefs," said Che Saren.

The building was nearing completion when the villagers attacked it with hammers and sticks. The structure situated only 700 meters (yards) from the Buddhist pagoda was torn down and the rubble torched by the mob. Kandal provincial officials denied planning permission for a church in Lvea Em, but the Christian community which numbers 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, said Ros Sithoeun.

"The Buddhists didn't want us to build the Christian church in their community," said Ros Sithoeun. "They were afraid that their practice of Buddhism would be negatively affected." The Christians have not complained to the police neither to recoup the lost investment in the now defunct church, nor to demand the arrest of the mob. The two sides came to a peaceful compromise after authorities gave them a lecture on the law of religious freedom, said Che Saren.

Cambodian Buddhists, which make up more than 90 percent of the population, are generally tolerant of other religions and all faiths have been allowed to freely practice in Cambodia , except during the Khmer Rouge era when adherents to all religions were persecuted, reports the AP.