Cambodia’s top Buddhist patriarch Tep Vong has ordered the defrocking of a Khmer Krom monk in Takeo province, accusing him of undermining relations between Cambodia and Vietnam, according to a statement received Sunday.
An official with local rights group Adhoc said Tim Sakhorn, 40, went missing from the pagoda he heads in Kiri Vong district under suspicious circumstances after being defrocked Saturday, and urged the authorities to disclose his whereabouts.
Great Supreme Patriarch Tep Vong accused Tim Sakhorn of undermining diplomatic ties by trying to establish a religious movement based out of his Phnom Den commune pagoda, according to a statement Tep Vong signed on June 16.
“Tim Sakhorn has breached the Buddhist discipline and caused a split in national and international unity, especially between the two countries of Cambodia and Vietnam,” Tep Vong alleged in the statement, which was also signed by Supreme Patriarch Non Nget.
“[Tim Sakhorn] used a pagoda as headquarters to serve a religious movement which affected the discipline and dignity of Buddhism,” Tep Vong wrote.
Non Nget accused monks under Tim Sakhorn of insulting the Vietnamese and causing monks to fight. “Monks cannot be involved in politics,” he said by telephone on Sunday.
Contacted by telephone Sunday, Tep Vong accused Tim Sakhorn of trying to destroy the achievements of January 7, the date in 1979 when Cambodians supported by the Vietnamese armed forces ousted the Khmer Rouge from Phnom Penh. In an earlier career, Tep Vong was deputy president of the National Assembly in 1981.
Tep Vong also said that 11 other, unidentified, Khmer Krom monks will be defrocked and returned to Vietnam. “I have ordered authorities to find and deport them,” he said.
“Those monks beat my monks and accused me of attacking them,” Tep Vong said. “They accused me of being a puppet monk and a monk for the authorities.” He added that this was a groundless allegation.
Tim Sakhorn’s whereabouts were uncertain Sunday.
Prak Sarann, Adhoc coordinator for Takeo province, said villagers claim they saw Tim Sakhorn being taken away in a truck by high-ranking Cambodian security officials on Saturday.
Prak Sarann said he has asked local authorities where the monk had gone, but they will not tell him.
“Authorities have not provided information to [Tim Sakhorn’s] family…. They failed to inform the family members of the suspect’s mistakes,” he said.
“There is no evidence that he has provoked the Khmer Krom to go against Vietnam.” Tim Sakhorn had been taking in monks claiming to be fleeing persecution in southern Vietnam, Prak Sarann added.
Chey Sophal, prosecutor at Takeo provincial court, said he issued a warrant for police to search Tim Sakhorn’s pagoda, adding that it was allegedly linked to criminal activity which he declined to specify.
Suon Phon, deputy provincial police chief, said police have searched the pagoda for weapons, but did not find any.
Chhea Am, the monk in charge of monk discipline in Takeo province, said he defrocked Tim Sakhorn on Saturday.
“The monks asked to use my pagoda to defrock [Tim Sakhorn],” he said. “I do not know where he is.”
Thach Setha, executive director of the Khmer Kampuchea Krom Community organization, said he believes Tim Sakhorn was defrocked for political rather than religious reasons.
“I want [Tep Vong] to reinstate the monk Tim Sakhorn. He didn’t breach discipline and he doesn’t deserve to be defrocked,” Thach Setha said.
“I don’t know where he is. The authorities must tell us because we want to visit him.”
Trinh Ba Cam, Vietnamese Embassy spokesman, said he was unaware of the case.
Interior Ministry spokesman Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak also said he was unaware of the case and declined further comment.