The UN’s human rights office in Phnom Penh said Friday that it was “gravely concerned” for the safety of Tim Sakhorn, a Khmer Krom monk who was defrocked and taken to Vietnam late last month.
Officials announced on July 2 that Tim Sakhorn, chief of Phnom Den pagoda in Takeo province’s Kiri Vong district, had been defrocked on June 30 for damaging diplomatic relations with Hanoi, and that he had consented to being taken to Vietnam that day.
However, local rights group Adhoc on July 3 accused Cambodian authorities of abducting and forcibly deporting Tim Sakhorn, and expressed concern about his safety in Vietnam.
The Cambodia Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said Friday it too had obtained information to indicate that Tim Sakhorn had not departed willingly.
“According to information gathered, Venerable Tim Sakhorn was last seen on 30 June 2007 after he was defrocked and forcefully pushed into a car which allegedly transported him to Vietnam,” OHCHR said in a statement.
“OHCHR Cambodia is concerned about the motives for his defrocking and subsequent disappearance,” the statement said.
“We are gravely concerned about his safety, as his whereabouts are still unknown to his family, friends and relatives.”
The statement also called on authorities to investigate the disappearance and to locate Tim Sakhorn.
Information Minister and government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said Sunday that he remained unaware of Tim Sakhorn’s location, but that the monk was Cambodian and should not have been deported.
“The UN can help me search for the monk,” he said, adding that Tim Sakhorn was not suspected of any crime. “He is Cambodian, he cannot be deported.”
In a June 16 statement in both Khmer and Vietnamese, Great Supreme Buddhist 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 pagoda.
Thach Setha, executive director of the Khmer Kampuchea Krom Community organization, said Tim Sakhorn’s whereabouts are uncertain. “We have not received any information about his location,” said Thach Setha, adding that if Tim Sakhorn is now in Vietnam, he feared for his safety.
Vietnamese Embassy spokesman Trinh Ba Cam could not be reached Sunday.
Interior Ministry spokesman Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak reiterated that Tim Sakhorn had requested to be taken to Vietnam.
“We have pleased Tim Sakhorn better than the UN,” he said.
Khieu Sopheak said Tim Sakhorn was in Vietnam though he did not know exactly where he was.
In a statement received Friday, Sao Korn, acting president of the US-based International Community of Khmer Buddhist Monks Center, said he feared for Khmer Krom monks who oppose government oppression in both Cambodia and Vietnam.
“Their actions have been obstructed so that they cannot express their minds with their national and religious conscience,” he said. “[Authorities] want them to walk down the line that has been drawn for them.”