INDEPENDENT NEWS

Cablegate: Khmer Krom Monk's Possible Forced Return to Vietnam

Published: Tue 3 Jul 2007 11:41 AM
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PP RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHNH
DE RUEHPF #0905/01 1841141
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 031141Z JUL 07
FM AMEMBASSY PHNOM PENH
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 8668
INFO RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHBK/AMEMBASSY BANGKOK PRIORITY 2345
RUEHHI/AMEMBASSY HANOI PRIORITY 4016
RUEHHM/AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH PRIORITY 0103
RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA PRIORITY 1608
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 PHNOM PENH 000905
SIPDIS
SENSITIVE
SIPDIS
STATE FOR EAP/MLS, BANGKOK FOR REFUGEE COORDINATOR
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREF PHUM CB
SUBJECT: KHMER KROM MONK'S POSSIBLE FORCED RETURN TO VIETNAM
PHNOM PENH 00000905 001.2 OF 002
1. (SBU) Summary. Over the weekend a Khmer Krom monk in
Cambodia was reportedly defrocked and carried off by
uniformed authorities. While the monk's whereabouts are not
yet confirmed, Ministry of Interior Spokesperson Kheiu
Sopheak verified that the monk went to Vietnam. Whether the
monk was forced to leave or went of his own free will is
currently at issue. Witnesses claim Tim Sakhorn was "forced"
into a vehicle by uniformed authorities but the MOI insists
he requested to be taken to Vietnam. Tim Sakhorn served as
monk of a pagoda near the Vietnam border for twenty years.
In addition to doubts about his whereabouts, questions remain
about the details of the way Tim Sakhorn was removed from his
village, and whether he has claim to Cambodian citizenship.
End summary.
2. (SBU) The Khmer Kampuchea Krom Human Rights Organization
(KKKHRO) reported that a Khmer Krom monk, Tim Sakhorn, was
sent from Cambodia to Vietnam over the weekend, possibly
forcibly. His removal took place immediately after Tim
Sakhorn was defrocked by three monks under the direction of
Supreme Patriarch Non Nget. According to the KKKHRO, some of
Tim Sakhorn's fellow community members who saw him being
driven away from his village report he was forced into a car
by Cambodian uniformed authorities. Specifically, villagers
told KKKHRO that some of the uniformed authorities were
dressed like members of Hun Sen's bodyguard unit. All
reports about the incident are sourced to eyewitnesses and
are not confirmed otherwise. The Ministry of Interior told
Polspec that Tim Sakhorn asked the authorities to take him
back to his village in Vietnam after being defrocked.
According to KKKHRO, Tim Sakhorn has served as a monk in Kiri
Vong for 20 years and his parents reside there.
3. (SBU) Tim Sakhorn, age 40, was chief of the Northern
Phnom Din pagoda in Kiri Vong district, Takeo province, near
the border with Vietnam. KKKHRO told Poloff he was active in
distributing information from the Khmer Kampuchea Krom
Federation, an international organization advocating the
rights of the Khmer Krom living in Vietnam. The monk also
was known for providing shelter and food to Khmer Krom monks
when they cross the border from Vietnam to Cambodia,
including those monks fleeing defrocking and clamp-downs in
Vietnam.
4. (SBU) One problematic aspect of the situation is whether
Tim Sakhorn has a rightful claim to Cambodian cititzenship.
The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for
Refugees (UNHCR) in Phnom Penh cites a letter dated two years
ago from the Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs stating
that the RGC considers Khmer Krom to be "Khmer citizens" and
that if UNHCR wants to designate an individual who is Khmer
Krom as a refugee, they need to find a third country for
resettlement as "Khmer citizens are not able to become
refugees in their own country." However, the use in this
letter of the term "Khmer" citizen instead of "Cambodian"
citizen makes the citizenship claim debatable. Both the
KKKHRO and Khmer Kampuchea Krom for Human Rights and
Development Association have complained to us that Khmer Krom
are often denied Cambodian identity cards by issuing
authorities. The Khmer Krom organizations take this as a
sign that they are not being treated as full Cambodian
citizens.
5. (SBU) The UN Cambodia Office of the High Commissioner for
Human Rights (UNOHCHR) is supporting a legal complaint and an
investigation led by the KKKHRO into the process under which
Tim Sakhorn was forcibly removed, though that investigation
may be a non-starter given the MOI's statement that the monk
willingly went to Vietnam. UNOHCHR told Poloff they are
offering support to Khmer Krom monks if they decide to go
into hiding due to fears of deportation. Many of the monks
have come together at a pagoda in Phnom Penh telling UNOHCHR
that they will stay together and not go into hiding as a sign
of their solidarity and stance against suppression of their
members.
6. (SBU) The KKKHRO says that Khmer Krom monks in Phnom Penh
are planning a peaceful march to Udong, 15 miles outside of
the city, to protest the activities against their monks.
While the plan is for a peaceful assembly, the march could be
problematic for participants as the Ministry of Cults and
Religious Affairs and Supreme Patriarch Non Nget recently
signed a ban on monks participating in marches or
demonstrations, stating religious figures should not get
involved in politics. UNOHCHR confirms that KKKHRO is not
revealing detailed plans of their march due to fears it will
PHNOM PENH 00000905 002.2 OF 002
be publicized and blocked before it takes place.
7. (SBU) Comment. Tim Sakhorn's exact whereabouts in
Vietnam are still in question. We are trying to corroborate
whether the monk was deported or willingly left Cambodia and
whether he has rightful claim to Cambodian citizenship. If
Tim Sakhorn has a valid claim to citizenship, there would be
no legal basis for his deportation. UNHCR Protection Officer
Inna Gladkova told Poloff that if the RGC now decides it has
the right to deport Khmer Krom to Vietnam, UNHCR may review
its policy about the refugee status of Khmer Krom fleeing
Vietnam. End comment.
MUSSOMELI
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