In a statement forwarded to King Norodom Sihamoni and Prime Minister Hun Sen, Cambodia’s top Buddhist patriarch Tep Vong has moved to clarify why he ordered the defrocking of a Khmer Krom monk and denied claims that the monk was forcibly deported to Vietnam.
Great Supreme Patriarch Tep Vong also released a handwritten statement, apparently thumb-printed by monk Tim Sakhorn, in which the monk appears to thank Tep Vong for ordering his June 30 defrocking and to consent to go to Vietnam of his own accord.
Tep Vong’s statement, dated Thursday and received Sunday, was also forwarded to the Senate and the National Assembly.
Tep Vong said unidentified law enforcement officials gave him permission to on June 16 order the defrocking in Takeo province’s Kiri Vong district, adding that it was carried out in accordance with the Constitution.
Rights workers say that after Tim Sakhorn, who was head of a pagoda in Phnom Den commune, was defrocked June 30, unidentified bodyguards pushed him into a Toyota Camry and drove him away against his will.
Local rights group Adhoc and the Khmer Kampuchea Krom Human Rights Organization say they have since received unconfirmed reports that Tim Sakhorn is being detained at a military base in Vietnam’s An Giang province.
Vietnamese Embassy spokesman Trinh Ba Cam could not be reached for comment Sunday.
Tep Vong made no reference to Tim Sakhorn’s whereabouts in his statement, but accused him of working against Buddhism on a large scale and undermining solidarity between Cambodia and Vietnam by holding two demonstrations against friendly relations between the two countries.
“[Tim Sakhorn and his monks] mocked the great supreme patriarch, claiming he was a communist monk and Hun Sen’s puppet,” Tep Vong said of himself, adding that this was a false allegation.
“Tim Sakhorn and his group did not adhere to Buddhism as the national religion. Everywhere they looked on the national religion as a puppet religion,” Tep Vong added.
Tep Vong accused monks under Tim Sakhorn of beating up his own monks with axes and sticks because they viewed them as being affiliated with Hun Sen.
He was apparently referring to the clash 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 Langka attempted to block the march, and in an ensuing fracas a Khmer Krom monk was left bloody-faced after being struck in the eye with a stone. “This was Tim Sakhorn’s immorality in trying to undermine January 7 Buddhism through a large-scale operation that led to monks splitting into groups,” Tep Vong said of the clash. “This action threatened to eliminate Buddhism,” he added.
On Jan 7, 1979, Cambodians supported by Vietnamese armed forces ousted the Khmer Rouge from Phnom Penh.
Thun Saray, president of local rights group Adhoc, said Sunday that the evidence provided to justify Tim Sakhorn’s defrocking is insufficient. He also said that he did not believe that Tim Sakhorn had undermined relations with Hanoi. Thun Saray added, however, “He helped the Khmer Krom, and this is a concern to the neighbor.” Prak Sarann, Adhoc’s Takeo coordinator, has said Tim Sakhorn had been taking in monks claiming to be fleeing persecution in southern Vietnam.
Contacted by telephone, Tep Vong declined comment on his statement and Tim Sakhorn’s case.
Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak confirmed that Tep Vong had issued the statement, adding that Tim Sakhorn had broken the law and breached Buddhist discipline. “Tep Vong’s statement is correct,” he said.
In the statement apparently thumb-printed by Tim Sakhorn, the monk said he understood why he was being defrocked. “[I] would like to thank the Great Supreme Patriarch [Tep Vong] after listening to his order to defrock me,” Tim Sakhorn supposedly said, according to the statement. “I would like to request to return to my hometown,” Tim Sakhorn added, according to the statement.
Tep Vong, who was not present for the defrocking, claimed in his own statement that police found pornographic movies and a woman in Tim Sakhorn’s room, and that Tim Sakhorn regularly carried a knife. “[Tim Sakhorn] was so ashamed and frightened of his actions that he requested to be sent to his hometown [in Southern Vietnam],” Tep Vong said.
Tim Sakhorn’s father has previously said that he lived in Takeo from 1979 onward, and would not have gone to Vietnam willingly.
Thach Setha, executive director of the Khmer Kampuchea Krom Community, said he did not believe the statement attributed to Tim Sakhorn represented his true feelings. “It is not Tim Sakhorn’s handwriting,” he said.
Kek Galabru, founder of local rights group Licadho, said she was concerned about Tim Sakhorn’s safety. “The Cambodian authorities must be responsible for his disappearance because the Cambodian people are under the protection of the authorities,” she said.