Adding its voice to a chorus of appeals, the Khmer Kampuchea Krom Association Wednesday called on the government to intervene in the detentions of ethnic minority monks living in Vietnam.
Vietnam authorities have defrocked as many as 16 monks since late February, and a number of them are held in prison, Thach Setha, president of the association, said Wednesday.
"Either the Vietnam authorities lessen their grip or they release those monks," Thach Setha said. "Two hundred monks are facing arrest, Khmer schools are closed and Buddhist monks at some pagodas are prevented from leaving the temples. The human rights situation in the Khmer Kampuchea Krom region is serious."
The issue of such imprisonments and other alleged rights abuses in Vietnam is incendiary among Cambodian activists who claim the lower Mekong Delta region, where many members of the ethnic group live, does not rightfully belong to Vietnam. Several groups in recent weeks have made similar appeals.
Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said the government does pay attention to the minority group, but that appeals should be made through Cambodian diplomatic channels in Vietnam, not through Cambodian media.
"The governments must talk between governments," he said. "Cambodian diplomats defend Cambodians who live in Khmer Kampuchea Krom," but if groups issue appeals through the press "it will not solve the problem."
This appeal comes less than a month before scheduled elections in Cambodia. In the past, the plight of the Khmer Kampuchea Krom people has been used as a political rallying point for different parties.
Opposition party leader Sam Rainsy made an appeal Wednesday to the United Nations and the international community to intervene in human rights abuses, especially Cambodian Buddhist monks in Vietnam.
"The Sam Rainsy Party condemns Vietnamese authorities who put pressure on our compatriots in Khmer Kampuchea Krom," he said.
Muth Chantha, spokesman for the Norodom Ranariddh Party, called the arrests "a serious human rights abuse."
"The Norodom Ranariddh Party, especially prince Norodom Ranariddh, is very saddened by the news of the arrest of 16 Buddhist monks and their imprisonment, as they were peacefully protesting their rights," he said.
The latest appeal follows a demonstration last month in front of the Vietnam Embassy in Phnom Penh where monks and activists gathered to demand more rights for the group. That demonstration coincided with the first official visit of Vietnam's president to Cambodia, and, shortly after, a monk was found dead, his throat slit, in what activists say was likely murder but police maintain was suicide.