Flocking to private farms, thousands spent days anticipating a biblical flood that would engulf all but one farm in rural Cambodia.
When a politician began sharing doomsday predictions on Facebook last week, his supporters risked their lives across the country to move to Siem Reap province in northwestern Cambodia. The Cambodian embassy in Seoul issued an official statement warning migrant workers to abandon their jobs and return home, as some even traveled from South Korea seeking refuge from the catastrophe, officials said.
A photo posted on Khem Veasna’s Facebook page, which has more than 370,000 followers, shows a crowd gathering at his farm. The exact number of people who gathered there is unknown, but officials estimated the number at around 15,000 to 20,000 on Monday, and there are signs that more are pouring in. It is frowned upon among local residents and officials complaining about
Those awaiting the apocalypse in Veasna’s farmhouse spent time listening to a sermon from the president of the small but established opposition group, the League for Democracy (LDP). Those unable to enter the crowded farm listened through a loudspeaker installed outside the gate.
Long known for his sharp rhetoric, Beasna was critical of both the Cambodian government and other members of the country’s fading political opposition. Widely accused of being rigged in favor of the LDP, Veasna led the LDP to nearly 310,000 votes.
Astrid Noren Nilsson, a senior lecturer at the Center for East and Southeast Asian Studies at Lund University, said Veasna’s popularity may be explained by the fact that he “fills a void” in the country’s stifling political climate. .
“Although opposition parties are allowed to revive to some extent, Cambodia is still very much characterized by this being a period of one-party dictatorship. I took it and aimed at a kind of millennium social movement,” she told VICE World News. “It clearly speaks to people in this globally uncertain and rather dark time.”
In recent years, Veasna has shunned politics and cultivated a cult-like figure among thousands of followers, calling himself Brahma (a religious title meaning the King of Heaven).
On August 23rd, the growing cult around Veasna escalated when she made a series of apocalyptic predictions on her Facebook page. He claims that a “black hole” in his spine is sending him messages about an impending flood that will wipe out the earth, adding that his farm is the only place safe from catastrophe, telling people urged me to join the
“I can’t sleep because every time I sleep, my spinal cord is tugging violently, because the world is collapsing and water is pouring into the crevices,” he wrote.
Veasna specifically called on South Korean supporters to return home. In 2017, he visited the country, which hosts more than 30,000 Cambodian migrant workers, to recruit supporters for his movement. In a Facebook post, Labor Ministry spokesman Heng Sour urged Cambodian workers in South Korea to exercise discernment over what he called “personal superstitions.”
“Leaving their jobs and returning to Cambodia will gradually affect the reputation of Khmer workers, who are always respected and loved by their Korean employers,” he said. “If the world were to suffer the kind of deluge he described, trust me scientists would declare a global emergency. It will sink.”
Will Brem, an associate professor at University College London who studies Cambodian politics, told VICE World News that the rally showed the impact of social media on many people in Cambodia. In Cambodia, the local media situation is tightly controlled by the Hun Sen government.
“It shows to some extent the power of social media in a country with very limited press freedom,” he said. “Facebook in particular is a way to spread ideas. But of course those ideas don’t always get reviewed.”
Veasna’s supporters continue to stubbornly cling to the doomsday call, ignoring days of home orders from local authorities. Under an agreement made between politicians and local officials, he was to disperse the crowd by the end of Tuesday.
Local officials said on Tuesday that some people had left, although a large number of people were still there. Authorities have also set up barricades at the entrances to the farms to prevent more people from entering.
Visna’s farmhouses cannot accommodate large numbers of people, so some of his supporters sleep in tents along the road or rent rooms nearby. Due to the lack of access to toilets, these supporters also defecate in inappropriate places, according to local residents.
While local residents have complained about the influx of tourists, some, including restaurant owners and taxi drivers, said they welcomed the business rush to the district.
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