Retired King Norodom Sihanouk has forwarded a letter to Prime Minister Hun Sen seeking intervention in the case of a Khmer Krom monk who rights workers say was abducted and forcibly deported to Vietnam late last month.
Norodom Sihanouk forwarded the letter—initially addressed to him by Thach Setha, executive director of the Khmer Kampuchea Krom Community—to Hun Sen on Friday, according to a statement posted Tuesday on the retired King’s Web site.
“I have sent the statement to Samdech [Hun Sen], head of the royal government to consider the request that his excellency [Thach Setha] has raised,” the retired King wrote in his brief message to Hun Sen.
In his July 3 letter, Thach Setha wrote that Tim Sakhorn, chief of Phnom Den pagoda in Takeo province’s Kiri Vong district, had been wrongly defrocked, then forced into a car June 30 and deported.
He also asked the retired King to use his influence to ensure that Tim Sakhorn is returned to Cambodia, and that no more Khmer Krom monks are defrocked.
Interior Ministry spokesman Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak declined comment on the statement and said he did not know Tim Sakhorn’s current whereabouts.
Khieu Sopheak, who has previously said Tim Sakhorn willingly consented to being sent to Vietnam, referred further questions on the monk’s whereabouts to Deputy National Police Commissioner Sok Phal. Sok Phal said he did not know where Tim Sakhorn is and declined further comment.
Nguon Nhel, CPP lawmaker and vice president of the National Assembly, said he did not know the details of Tim Sakhorn’s case, but added: “Samdech Hun Sen can consider the retired King’s statement. If it is appropriate, Prime Minister Hun Sen will solve the case.”
Thach Setha applauded the retired King for forwarding his letter to Hun Sen.
“The government must comply with the retired King and examine the request,” he said. “The government must intervene and bring the monk back to Cambodia.”
In a June 16 statement in both Khmer and Vietnamese, Great Supreme Patriarch Tep Vong ordered Tim Sakhorn’s defrocking and accused him of undermining ties between Cambodia and Vietnam by trying to establish a religious movement based out of his Takeo province pagoda.
Prak Sarann, provincial coordinator for local rights group Adhoc, said Tim Sakhorn had been sheltering Khmer Krom monks who claimed to be fleeing persecution in southern Vietnam.
Hing Bun Heang, an adviser to Tep Vong and head of Hun Sen’s personal bodyguard unit, was in Takeo on Monday urging monks to comply with “Buddhist discipline,” local government officials said Tuesday.
Kol Sok Saran, director of the provincial department of cult and religious affairs, said Hing Bun Heang visited a pagoda groundbreaking ceremony in Takeo on Monday.
“He asked monks to comply with Buddhist discipline,” Kol Sok Saran said.
Ang Chanrith, executive director of the Khmer Kampuchea Krom Human Rights Organization, claimed that Hing Bun Heang visited Traing district and told monks not to imitate Tim Sakhorn’s actions. Hing Bun Heang did not specify what actions of Tim Sakhorn they should avoid imitating, he said.
A bodyguard who picked up Hing Bun Heang’s telephone Tuesday said his chief was too busy to discuss the matter.
Tep Vong could not be reached for comment on the disappearance of Tim Sakhorn.
Government spokesman and Information Minister Khieu Kanharith could not be reached for comment Tuesday but last week said that Tim Sakhorn may have been defrocked for having an affair with a woman.