Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has called on the public to refrain from discriminating against the followers of a politician who has attracted thousands to what many commentators are calling a “doomsday cult”.
Khem Veasna, an outspoken political party leader, recently declared himself a “universe protecting brahma” and has drawn as many as 20,000 people to his sprawling farm in Siem Reap province to escape a “doomsday” that came and went this week without incident.
Hun Sen’s appeal came as the followers were about to start returning to their home communities on the order of authorities.
Khem Veasna is currently president of the League for Democracy Party (LDP). His “doomsday” claims have attracted thousands of supporters, not only within the country but also many others who have been working abroad, notably in South Korea, Japan and Thailand, the Phnom Penh Post reported.
Hun Sen said Khem Veasna’s call had caused strife within families and arguments that had forced friends and relatives apart. Some had even sold property to be able to travel from a distance to the politician’s property near Khulen Mountain in Siem Reap.
“I call on people in the community to refrain from discriminating against [his followers] because in truth they are victims that have been cheated,” Hun Sen said on Thursday at a groundbreaking ceremony for a flyover construction project in Phnom Penh.
Siem Reap provincial authorities have warned Khem Veasna that they would take action should he continue the gathering past the weekend.
On his declared doomsday of Aug 30, Khem Veasna changed his tone from predicting the apocalypse to publicly insulting and taunting Hun Sen while declaring that the prime minister could never take any action against his group.
While his supporters have called for legal action against Khem Veasna, Hun Sen said he viewed the situation differently.
He said he felt that Khem Veasna was trying to provoke the authorities into taking action against him so that he could gain politically by it, as politics may be the only career path left for someone in his predicament.
“He’s already making a career move from faith to politics. I asked those loyal to me to please not fall into Khem Veasna’s trap. Last night I called on the authorities to stay vigilant,” he said.
The prime minister said that although he was annoyed by Khem Veasna’s insults, at least he hadn’t tried calling for a military coup or tried to get the military to turn its guns on the government or called on foreign donors to cut aid to Cambodia.
“I cannot say that he has mental problems or that he’s crazy. I cannot judge matters like this. But at least Khem Veasna has never appealed to the public to help him topple the government, unlike some other people.”
Without naming his chief political rivals of past years and perhaps still today, he said that one politician had on video unambiguously called for the military to attack the government, by way of reference to exiled former opposition leader Sam Rainsy.
Hun Sen also called on Siem Reap provincial authorities to prevent Khem Veasna’s group from possibly making an attempt at occupying state land illegally.
Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said the ministry had instructed Siem Reap provincial authorities to peacefully educate the gathering of people in order to make them understand the world was not ending and they can go back home.
Khem Veasna’s political party has taken part in a few national elections but has never won a seat. It did not take part in the June 5 commune council elections this year.
The LDP boycotted commune elections in June after Khem Veasna declared himself a reincarnation of the Hindu god Brahma.
Two weeks ago, he began posting online doomsday predictions claiming only his farm would survive a pending an apocalypse. According to a translation by Voice of Democracy (VOD), he wrote that “a black hole forming within his spine was telling him about a looming apocalypse.”
Strange signs appearing in the sky were “omens of an approaching flood that would swallow all of Earth — except for his farm in Siem Reap”, he said.
Thousands of people flocked to a local pagoda, set up tents and were listening to Khem Veasna preach through loudspeakers.
The Cambodian embassy in Seoul also issued a statement calling for calm after thousands of migrant Khmer workers abandoned their jobs in a panic and booked flights home.