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Date: 1/21/99

Publication: The Nation

Section: Headlines

Temple refutes opponent's land claims

IN a strong rebuttal, Wat Phra Dhammakaya yesterday claimed its opponents had filed a complaint based on court-acquitted charges about alleged violations of land laws.

Phra Banyen Chinwaro, also known as Banyen Duangrayos, and 20 villagers petitioned the Crime Suppression Division (CSD) to investigate the temple and abbot Dhammachayo on charges relating to the encroachment of farm land and wrongful eviction of tenant farmers.

The petition urged the CSD to reopen the investigation on the land dispute between Dhammachayo and a group of 64 Pathum Thani tenant farmers.

The temple said in a statement that the courts had already ruled in its favour relating to lawsuits on the land disputes.

As part of the temple's expansion programme, it had procured 2,000 rai of farm land adjacent to its original plot to convert it into a meditation retreat since 1983, the statement said.

Although the land, previously owned by MR Suwaphan Snidvong, was occupied by 64 tenant farmers at the time of purchase, the temple had completed the negotiation for a compensation package to relocate 59 farmers in 1988.

Only five farmers, led by Phra Banyen who was then a layman, refused to comply with the temple's eviction notice.

They instead staged several violent protests against the temple, prompting a ruling by the Thanyaburi Court to order their eviction by September 1988.

In a separate lawsuit, the Criminal Court sentenced Banyen to five and a half months in jail on charges relating to libel and property damages in 1993.

The verdict stemmed from an incident in 1992 in which Banyen led villagers in a raid on the temple. He was arrested after the infamous clash between the villagers and Dhamakaya workers.

Banyen was ordained following his imprisonment.

In their efforts to reopen the criminal probe, Banyen and the villagers earlier this week filed charges with police accusing Dhammachayo of fraud in designing the compensation package for tenant farmers.

Meanwhile, outspoken monk Phra Phayom Kallayano, abbot of Wat Suan Kaew, yesterday called for the removal of Phra Dhaamayacho as abbot of Wat Phra Dhammakaya to end the controversy.

Phayom called on senior monks in the Sangkha Supreme Council to remove Dhamamachayo from the helm of the temple and also urged the abbot to speak out about the allegations made against him and the temple.

The monk was speaking yesterday at a Thammasat University seminar held to discuss the allegations.

Phrasripariyatmoli, deputy rector of Maha Chulalongkornratchavittayalai also called on Dhammachayo to admit his mistakes. ''Dhammachayo should show respect to the Sangkha Supreme Council and go see senior monks, admit and correct his mistakes,'' he said.

Satienpong Wannapok, an expert on religion, called on the Sangkha Supreme Council to take action over the temple's methods of soliciting funds and its interpretation of nirvana.

The Nation

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