Defrocked Khmer Krom monk Tim Sakhorn, who went missing a month ago, has resurfaced in Vietnam where he is to go on trial for political crimes, the Vietnamese Embassy said Thursday.
Cambodian officials early last month announced that Tim Sakhorn, chief of Phnom Den pagoda in Takeo province’s Kiri Vong district, had consented to being sent to Vietnam on June 30, the same day he was defrocked for allegedly damaging relations with Vietnam.
Human rights groups had claimed that Tim Sakhorn was abducted.
Vietnamese Embassy spokesman Trinh Ba Cam said Thursday that Tim Sakhorn was being held in the Vietnamese border province of Ang Giang and would soon be tried.
“Tim Sakhorn is being provisionally detained by a Vietnamese law enforcement unit pending prosecution under the destruction of political solidarity law,” he said, adding that he was unaware how long the detention would last.
Trinh Ba Cam also said Tim Sakhorn was a Vietnamese national of Khmer ethnicity, which gave Vietnam jurisdiction over him.
State-controlled Vietnamese media also reported this week that Vietnamese authorities were holding Tim Sakhorn.
Vietnam’s daily Thanh Nien newspaper claimed Thursday that Tim Sakhorn was a native of An Giang province and had been arrested while illegally trying to enter Vietnam and charged with undermining political unity.
Trinh Ba Cam also claimed that Tim Sakhorn had confessed to assisting the US-based Khmer Kampuchea Krom Federation by providing documents and newspaper articles to help incite anti-Vietnamese activities.
“Tim Sakhorn and other Khmer Kampuchea Krom who wear the Buddhist robe always organize movements to stage demonstrations against Vietnam and build networks in Cambodia to incite chaos,” he added.
Thach Setha, executive director of the local Khmer Kampuchea Krom Community, said the Cambodian government was now responsible for Tim Sakhorn’s safety.
“The government has deported Tim Sakhorn to Vietnam for prosecution. The authorities have abused the Constitution,” Thach Setha said, citing a Constitutional ban on deporting Cambodian citizens.
Thach Setha also denied that Tim Sakhorn had been involved in anti-Vietnamese activities.
“There is no evidence the monk established a movement. It is just an exaggeration,” he said.
Kek Galabru, president of rights group Licadho, agreed.
“Tim Sakhorn is a Cambodian citizen. He must be brought for prosecution at a Cambodian court if he breached the law,” she said.
Great Supreme Buddhist Patriarch Tep Vong and Supreme Buddhist Patriarch Non Nget could not be reached for comment.
Tep Vong previously accused Tim Sakhorn of working against Buddhism and last month released a handwritten letter in which Tim Sakhorn appears to consent to being taken to Vietnam and also to thank Tep Vong for his defrocking.
Interior Ministry spokesman Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak declined to discuss Tim Sakhorn’s fate.
“Authorities honored Tim Sakhorn’s request to go to his hometown,” he said.
In a two-hour closed-door meeting at the National Assembly Thursday morning, Interior Ministry Secretary of State Em Sam An and Chhay Sinarith, director of the ministry’s General Information Department, answered questions about Tim Sakhorn from SRP lawmaker Yim Sovann, chair of the assembly’s commission on the interior.
Chhay Sinarith told reporters after the meeting that the commission had requested an inquiry into Tim Sakhorn’s disappearance.
“We have reported to the commission and we received a request from the commission to study the case and learn the whereabouts of Tim Sakhorn,” he said.
Yim Sovann said both Em Sam An and Chhay Sinarith had told him they did not know what had become of Tim Sakhorn.
“The Ministry of Interior said they had no information,” he said. “I will continue to follow the case because the case has affected the government’s reputation. It is a serious human rights violation.”
Yim Sovann also said the speed with which authorities had arrested suspects in Sunday’s failed bombing attempt at the Vietnam-Cambodia Friendship Monument contrasted harshly with authorities’ proclaimed ignorance about Tim Sakhorn.
“In some complicated cases, authorities can find the suspects. However, in this case, the Ministry of Interior has examined the case slowly and has failed to investigate,” he added.