A Khmer Kampuchea Krom monk who was jailed in Vietnam in 2007 and was at the center of a human rights debate arrived in Cambodia for a visit over the weekend and is now seeking to stay legally.
Under strict supervision by Vietnamese authorities since his release last year, the former monk, Tim Sakhorn, was allowed to return to Takeo province for his mother’s 100-day funeral ceremony.
“I want to live in Cambodia, to see my family members and my father,” he told VOA Khmer by phone Thursday.
Tim Sakhorn, who is ethnically Khmer but was born in Vietnam, was defrocked by Cambodian Buddhist authorities in mid-2007, for allegedly fomenting trouble between the two countries. He was later jailed in Vietnam’s An Giang province.
His imprisonment highlighted the problematic situation of the so-called Khmer Kampuchea Krom, those who are culturally Khmer but who inhabit Vietnam’s Mekong Delta, an area that once belonged to Cambodia.
Many Khmer Krom now reside in Cambodia, where they advocate for greater rights of the Khmer Krom in Vietnam and can be recognized as Cambodian citizens. Human rights groups say they suffer persecution in Vietnam.
“I don’t want to live in Kampuchea Krom,” Tim Sakhorn said, referring to Vietnam. “There, I live alone, and I am very poor, without anything to eat. I would like to call on the Cambodian government and the king to let me live in Cambodia legally.”
Tim Sakhorn was arrested followed clashes in early 2007 between Khmer Kampuchea Krom and Cambodian monks, during demonstrations against Vietnam’s treatment of the ethnic minority.
The clashes were an expression of a thorny political problem for Cambodia, because many Cambodians are still angry that the Mekong Delta was made a part of Vietnam following French-colonial rule.
Tim Sakhorn claims he was seized by Cambodian authorities and handed over to Vietnam in May 2007, where he spent a year in jail before his release in July 2008, a claim the Cambodian government has rejected.
He traveled to Cambodia last week on a Vietnamese passport with a 15-day visa.
Ang Chanrith, executive director of the Khmer Kampuchea Krom Human Rights Organization, told VOA Khmer Thursday Tim Sakhorn had requested human rights groups help him find legal residency in Cambodia.
“This is the right thing, because Tim Sakhorn is Khmer, so he must have the right to live in Cambodia legally,” he said.
Lt. Gen. Khieu Sopheak, a spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, said Thursday a royal decree by former king Norodom Sihanouk in 2003 allowed for Cambodian citizenship of Khmer Kampuchea Krom people.
“In this meaning, if Tim Sakhorn stays in Cambodia, Tim Sakhorn does not have to apply for Cambodian nationality,” he said. “If Tim Sakhorn is a Cambodian national, Tim Sakhorn should have some documentation, such as…a family book or residence book.”
However, Tim Sakhorn said Thursday all of his documentation disappeared after a defrocking ceremony and his subsequent immediate deportation.