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Fearful Monk Seeks Refuge in Thailand

[Editor’s note: Tim Sakhorn, a former monk of the Khmer Kampuchea Krom ethnic group of southern Vietnam, who ran a pagoda in Takeo province, is now in Thailand, seeking political asylum from persecution in Vietnam. He was defrocked in Cambodia in 2007 and allegedly forcibly turned over to Vietnamese authorities, who put him in prison for a year. Allowed to visit Cambodia earlier this month, to attend a funeral ceremony for his mother, he fled the country. He spoke to VOA Khmer by phone from Thailand.]

Q. What was the reason you made your escape from Cambodia to Thailand?

A. I was very afraid the Cambodian government would send me back to Vietnam.

Q. What is your present situation in Thailand?

A. I’m still really scared.

Q. Because you’ve seen someone following you, or intimidating you, or what?

A. I haven’t seen anyone following me yet, but I have to be careful with my personal security.

Q. Who protects you in Thailand?

A. I don’t have anyone protecting me yet.

Q. Where is your final destination?

A. My plan is to go the United States of America.

Q. What were your conditions in jail?

A. The situation in Vietnam’s jail was like hell, very difficult.

Q. What kind of difficulties? Could you give a specific example?

A. I don’t want to describe it right now. As you know, I’m still scared about my personal security.

Q. Did you see any political prisoners being tortured?

A. I still don’t want to talk about it yet, because I’m still scared.

Q. Are there any Kampuchea Krom monks or Khmer Kampuchea Krom people being detained over there?

A. When I was there, I would see them come and go, some people who were charged with illegal border crossing or some other offenses. It is beyond my knowledge whether those prisoners are still detained or released. I don’t really know in detail about that.

Q. Trinh Ba Cam, the Vietnamese embassy spokesman in Phnom Penh, has said the human rights situation in Vietnam is progressing along a good path. He said there are no political prisoners in Vietnam. What do you think about his comment?

A. Peace and freedom in Vietnam are not full yet. A lot of people demanding freedom have been arrested and were threatened by Vietnamese authorities.

Q. I was told that there are five Kampuchea Krom monks being detained. Is that right?

A. This is true, as in my situation, for example. I was strictly surveilled by the Vietnamese authorities after I was released from prison. I had to ask a lot of permissions from a lot of different authorities to come to my mother’s funeral ceremony. They restricted me, not allowing me to stay in Cambodia for so long, and they did not allow me to contact any civil society groups or political parties critical of the Vietnamese government. I don’t think those five monks will be released soon.

Q. What is the charge against those five monks?

A. They are all involved with freedom demonstrations, like my issue, same thing.

Q. Regarding accusations against you from Supreme Patriarch Tep Vong, of undermining solidarity between Cambodia and Vietnam, do you have any comment?

A. The Khmer Kampuchea Krom people in Vietnam do not have any problem with Cambodia at all. We are the same, Khmer. Our Khmer Kampuchea Krom people only need real freedom. We really don’t have issues with our Khmer people in Cambodia at all.

Q. After the Vietnamese authorities freed you from detention, did you have real freedom?

A. I doubt that I had real freedom. I still felt so scared, even when I arrived in Cambodia, so I needed to leave Cambodia for a third country.

Q. I heard that you were under house arrest and under strict surveillance by the Vietnamese authorities. Is that true?

A. That was true. The Vietnamese authorities are not careless about this issue. Whenever I wanted to go visit my relatives, a Vietnamese secret agent would go with me. They wore plain clothes and followed me every minute.

Q. Who else was involved in your defrocking? Was there any violence then?

A. They said if I didn’t agree to be defrocked, they would use military force. I didn’t agree at that time, but they forcibly defrocked me, they took away my monk’s robe, then they forced me to wear plain clothes, and after that they pushed me into the car.