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Monk in Vietnam Under Strict Control: Group

A US-based advocacy group for Khmer Kampuchea Krom people has called on the Cambodian government to bring back from Vietnam a defrocked monk who was released from prison in June but remains under close control of the Vietnamese government.

Tim Sakhorn, who had been the chief monk of a Takeo province pagoda, was defrocked last year after he was accused of fomenting unrest between Cambodia and Vietnam. He was later detained in Vietnam.

However, the vice president of the Khmer Kampuchea Krom Federation, Prak Sereyvuth, said recently Tim Sakhorn remains under virtual house arrest and is constantly watched by Vietnamese security.

"He cannot freely connect with villagers, his relatives or his friends, because spies of Vietnam's interior ministry and secret agents are watching him every day," Prak Sereyvuth said. "If he wants to speak through a phone call, he has to ask the permission from them first. They monitor him at all times. He can't travel or move to another place."

Such repression of rights was no different from a prison sentence, he said, and he appealed to the Cambodian government and Prime Minister Hun Sen to help bring him back to his pagoda.

A spokesman for the Vietnamese Embassy in Phnom Penh, Trinh Ba Cam, denied the claims.

"This is made-up information," he said. "It is not like what they say. This is old information, and I don't want to review it any more."

Tim Sakhorn, 40, was defrocked in June 2007, on orders from Cambodia's supreme Buddhist patriarch, Tep Vong. Witnesses maintain he was then ushered to Vietnam by unknown men. In November 2007, he was sentenced to a year in prison by a Vietnamese court.

Tim Sakhorn was born in southern Vietnam, an area referred to by some Cambodians as Kampuchea Krom, or "lower Kampuchea;" for some, governance of the region by Vietnam remains politically volatile.

Tim Sakhorn served 17 years at the Phnom Din pagoda in Takeo province before his defrocking, and family members have said he is a legal citizen of Cambodia. Vietnamese officials maintain he is a national there.

Brad Adams, Asia director for Human Rights Watch, called on Vietnam to "fully restore [Tim Sakhorn's] freedom."

"He should be able to travel freely and to meet his friends and family members in private," Adams said. "And the Cambodian government should publicly confirm that he is free to return to Cambodia, where he is a citizen."

The Khmer Kampuchea Krom Federation said in a recent report that at least five Kampuchea Krom monks still being held in Vietnamese prisons: Danh Tol, 27, Kim Muol, 23, Ly Hoang, 22, Ly Suong, 33, and Thach Thuong, 26.