Human Rights Watch Asks Gov’t To Protect Monks

New York-based Human Rights Watch has called on the government to ensure the safety of Bud­dhist monks who protest peacefully and to cease deporting ethnic Khmer monks to Vietnam.

The statement follows a Dec 17 melee outside the Vietnamese Em­bassy in Phnom Penh where riot police clashed with around 50 Khmer Krom Buddhist monks protesting against the detention of Khmer Krom monks in Vietnam.

Local rights groups claimed that at least two monks were seriously injured after being shocked by police wielding electric batons, while a police spokesman said the officers had been provoked into reaction.

“The Cambodian government shouldn’t emulate Burma’s generals by brutally cracking down on monks who peacefully protest. They are Cambodian citizens who de­serve protection, not more mistreatment from the Cambodian government,” Rights Watch said in the statement.

The organization also expressed concern that Cambodian authorities were arresting, defrocking and forcibly sending protesting monks to Vietnam, “where they could face severe reprisals.”

International law prohibits the expulsion without due process of persons from a country where they legally reside, Rights Watch added.

Government spokesman and Information Minister Khieu Kan­ha­rith said Sunday that police had been at fault during the confrontation, but he also said that the monks had started the violence by throwing water bottles at the officers.

“Our police are weak at conflict resolution,” Khieu Kanharith said, adding that it was unfair to compare the fracas to what had taken place in Burma, where the military junta called out the army to bloodily suppress pro-democracy monks earlier this year.

He also said that the behavior of the Khmer Krom monks at the embassy was inappropriate.

“If they are Buddhist [monks] when they are hit, they should sit and chant,” Khieu Kanharith said.

Yoeun Sin, president of the Kam­puchea Krom Buddhist Monks association, denied that the monks sparked the violence and warned that demonstrations would continue as long as the suppression of ethnic Khmers continues in Vietnam.

“If Vietnam stops pressuring us, we will stop having demonstrations,” he said.

A spokesman for the Vietnamese Embassy said he was too busy to speak to a reporter Sunday.

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