Five former Khmer Krom monks who were hiding out in Phnom Penh after leaving Vietnam have fled to Thailand in an effort to seek asylum, the defrocked monks and NGO workers said Tuesday.
Khmer Kampuchea Krom Human Rights Association Executive Director Ang Chanrith said the five Buddhist monks, who were jailed in Vietnam in February 2007 and later released, have all traveled to Bangkok and are waiting to meet with officials from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. They are staying with the Bangkok-based Khmer Krom Friendship Association and are scheduled to meet UNHCR officials May 19.
“They fled to Bangkok [Monday] because they were concerned about their security here after they fled from Vietnam,” he said.
The men—Ly Suong, Danh Ton, Thach Thuong, Ly Fang and Kim Muon—are all Vietnamese citizens but ethnic Khmers. Vietnamese authorities arrested the monks on Feb 23, 2007 for allegedly organizing anti-government demonstrations in southern Vietnam. Mr Ly Suong was released from prison in November, while the rest were freed in January.
Vietnamese Embassy spokesman Trinh Ba Cam could not be reached by telephone for comment Tuesday.
Mr Danh Ton said the men crossed the Cambodian border in two groups but later feared for their safety in Cambodia. Claiming police were watching them, he said the monks left the capital rather than run the risk of being deported to Vietnam.
Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak, spokesman for the Interior Ministry, said police did not guard or follow the five men while they were in Phnom Penh. He said the men also should not use their situation to criticize the Cambodian government.
Mr Thach Thuong said the monks see their plight as a chance to speak out and better the lives of other ethnic Khmer Krom.
“We want to join with the Khmer Krom Federation in the United States to demand our human rights, freedom and religion for Khmer Krom,” he said by telephone from Bangkok. “We have to stand up to demand our rights from Vietnamese authorities, and we are still hopeful that the UNHCR will consider naming us as asylum-seekers.”