Khmer Krom: Abbot Deported Back to Vietnam

Radio Australia, July 10, 2007, Published on the Buddhist Channel, Aug 1, 2007

Khmer Krom communities express grave concern after the announcement of Tim Sa Khorn’s deportation to Vietnam by Cambodian authorities. The Phnom Den abbot had refugee status in Cambodia.

Phnom Penh, Cambodia -- The disappearance of a high-profile abbot in Cambodia, Venerable Tim Sakhorn, has evoked grave concern among ethnic Khmer Krom communities around the world.

The Cambodian Ministry of the Interior says the abbot has voluntarily left Cambodia for southern Vietnam, but his family denies it, saying he has no reason to return as he has been head of his pagoda in Cambodia for years and fears persecution in his Vietnamese homeland.

The abbot of Phnom Den pagoda in Takeo province was defrocked last week by the supreme patriarch of Buddhist monks in Cambodia, Venerable Tep Vong, for an alleged attempt to undermine the relationship between Vietnam and Cambodia.

The Khmer Krom are an ethnic minority group living in the Mekong Delta regions of southern Vietnam and Cambodia which used to belong to Cambodia before Vietnam acquired it under French colonialism.

The head of the Khmer Krom Buddhist Association, Venerable Yin Sin, told Radio Australia's Khmer News that four monks have already fled Vietnam, through Cambodia and now on to Thailand, through fear of persecution, and another 11 have gone into hiding.

"The Khmer Krom have been living in fear, some have left Vietnam for safety reason, and now they are being followed," he said.

The head of the Khmer Krom community in Cambodia, Thach Setha, also expressed concern after the Cambodia Daily newspaper quoted a statement by the Cambodian supreme patriarch saying that defrocking another 11 Khmer Krom monks was possible.

Venerable Tep Vong said the monks could be drefrocked if found to have been involved in a violent brawl with local monks in April this year during a march protesting the Vietnam government's oppression of the ethnic Khmer who live in neighbouring Vietnam.

A spokesperson for the Cambodian Ministry of Interior said the ministry was not aware of the threat to defrock another 11 monks, but said once defrocked, the monks would lose their immunity from prosecution.

They could then be charged for any alleged crime or any activity deemed to be illegal or harming national security.

Cambodia's Khmer community leader Thach Setha told Radio Australia's Khmer News the community is seeking help from international human rights groups, as well diplomats, in citing Cambodia for political oppression.

Vietnam has recently been cited by human rights groups for political oppression of the Khmer Krom.