A Khmer Krom monk who was defrocked Saturday after being accused of undermining the relationship between Phnom Penh and Hanoi has been sent to Vietnam, officials said Monday.
Interior Ministry spokesman Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak said that Tim Sakhorn, chief of Phnom Den pagoda, was sent from Takeo province’s Kiri Vong district Saturday, though he maintained that the monk went to Vietnam voluntarily.
“By law, we had to expel him from the country, but he requested in a document that we deport him back to his home town,” Khieu Sopheak said.
Khieu Sopheak said he did not know where in Vietnam Tim Sakhorn had gone.
Human rights workers deplored the treatment of Tim Sakhorn and questioned the official reports that he would have gone to Vietnam willingly.
“I don’t believe he wanted to go back to Vietnam,” said Thach Setha, executive director of the NGO Khmer Kampuchea Krom Community.
Tim Sakhorn has been living in Cambodia since 1979, Thach Setha said.
“I demand that the authorities bring him back to Cambodia and reinstate him as a monk. The authorities have abused the Constitution and his human rights,” he added.
In a June 16 statement, Cambodia’s Great Supreme Patriarch Tep Vong ordered Tim Sakhorn defrocked, accusing him of undermining diplomatic relations with Vietnam by trying to establish a religious movement based out of his Phnom Den commune pagoda.
Prak Sarann, provincial coordinator for local rights group Adhoc, said that Tim Sakhorn had been taking in ethnic Khmer monks who claimed to be fleeing persecution in southern Vietnam.
Tep Vong said Monday that he had no idea where Tim Sakhorn was. On Sunday, Tep Vong said he had ordered 11 other Khmer Krom monks to be defrocked and returned to Vietnam after they allegedly beat up his own monks.
The clash occurred on April 20 when some 50 Khmer Krom monks marched through central Phnom Penh to highlight what they claimed were restrictions on Khmer monks in southern Vietnam. Monks based at Phnom Penh’s Wat Lanka attempted to block the monks from marching and in the ensuing fracas a Khmer Krom monk was left bloody-faced after being struck in the eye with a stone.
The Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee, a coalition of 22 NGOs, said Monday that it would provide safe shelter for Khmer Krom monks in Cambodia who feel they are in danger of abuse or deportation.
“Whenever they feel in danger they can come and ask for help,” said Chan Soveth, Adhoc investigator, whose organization holds the presidency of CHRAC.
Forty villagers in Kiri Vong have thumbprinted a petition asking Adhoc to search for Tim Sakhorn, Chan Soveth said.
“They want to know what he did wrong and where he is,” he added.
Government spokesman and Information Minister Khieu Kanharith said he had heard that Tim Sakhorn had breached the rules of Buddhism by having affairs with women, though he declined to comment specifically on the monk’s return to Vietnam.
Vietnamese Embassy spokesman Trinh Ba Cam said he was unaware of the deportation.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees is asking the government for clarification about Tim Sakhorn’s whereabouts, UNHCR spokeswoman Inge Sturkenboom wrote in an e-mail.
“The Cambodian government informs UNHCR since 2005 that Khmer Krom are considered as Khmer citizens,” she added.