An investigator with local rights group Adhoc claimed Tuesday that commune officials in Takeo province’s Kiri Vong district have threatened to detain villagers if they search for missing monk Tim Sakhorn or thumbprint petitions supporting him.
Authorities in Phnom Den commune denied the allegation.
Adhoc investigator Ouch Leng said rights workers have asked Takeo villagers to thumbprint their support for Tim Sakhorn, but that villagers have been too scared to do so.
Villagers and members of Tim Sakhorn’s family claim they were threatened by Phnom Den commune chief Tean Sareth and commune police chief Yok Sarath, Ouch Leng said.
“Police threatened that any villagers who thumbprint and searched for Tim Sakhorn will be handcuffed and face the same fate as Tim Sakhorn,” Ouch Leng claimed.
Yok Sarath and Tean Sareth both said the allegation was false.
“We did not search villagers’ houses or intimidate people,” Yok Sarath said, adding that Tim Sakhorn was defrocked for having an affair with a woman.
Tim Sakhorn, a ethnic Khmer born in Vietnam, disappeared on June 30 after being defrocked on the orders of Great Supreme Patriarch Tep Vong, who accused him of undermining ties with Hanoi by trying to establish a religious movement based out of his pagoda.
Officials say that Tim Sakhorn was then willingly taken to Vietnam, though rights workers and relatives claim the monk could only have been forced against his will back to Vietnam.
Tim Sakhorn’s father Tim Tean said he has not been threatened, but said other villagers were told they risked being arrested if they looked for the missing monk.
“People are too afraid to help find my son,” he said, adding that he has stopped searching because he fears for his own safety.
Kiri Vong district Police Chief Meas Sophoan said the villagers have nothing to fear. “Now it is 2007. The commune chief and police chief do not intimidate the villagers. We please the villagers,” he said.