Monks within the Khmer Kampuchea Krom community said Tuesday many in their ranks were considering fleeing Cambodia, or already had, following the defrocking and subsequent expulsion to Vietnam of one of their own.
Tim Sakhorn, chief of Phnom Den pagoda in Takeo province, was defrocked last week for allegedly seeking to undermine Cambodia's relationship with Vietnam. Authorities said he was sheltering Khmer Krom monks who had fled Vietnam and was organizing them in an unlawful manner.
The Khmer Kampuchea Krom are a minority group living in the Mekong Delta regions of Vietnam and Cambodia. Many Cambodians identify with their cause and believe the Delta region was taken from Cambodia.
Officials say they expelled him according to the law, returning him to his hometown, but human rights officials are afraid he was sent forcibly to a country that has come under fire this year for rights abuses against Khmer Krom monks.
Khmer Krom monks told VOA Khmer they feared Vietnam was too dangerous for them, and some had left the country.
Monk Chey Samnang, vice president of a Khmer Krom monk organization, told VOA Khmer by phone from Australia that the arrest of Tim Sakhorn and the defrocking of 11 other Khmer Krom monks recently was against Cambodia's law.
"The honorable Tim Sakhorn did not commit any offense," Chey Samnang said. "He was called for a meeting [and then] he was defrocked. It was not a summons for an arrest, and it was actually an act of putting pressure on him."
Chey Samnang appealed to human rights organizations to find the monk, whose exact whereabouts are unknown, and to help reinstate him as the head of his pagoda.