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Ex-monk meets with officials

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090410_04.jpg

UN, rights groups lobby govt in a bid to secure Tim Sakhorn's citizenship rights.

Photo by:
HENG CHIVOAN

Khmer Krom monks are chased by riot police during a December 2007 demonstration at the Vietnamese embassy in Phnom Penh.

FORMER monk Tim Sakhorn and leading Khmer Krom activists met with government officials in Takeo province Thursday in an attempt to resolve the status of his nationality and allow him to settle in Cambodia permanently.

Tim Sakhorn, a rights activist who was arrested and defrocked in Cambodia before being jailed in Vietnam, arrived in Cambodia to visit family Saturday, but is scheduled to return to Vietnam April 17.

"We met with local authorities in Takeo this morning in order to apply for a legal Cambodian identity card for Tim Sakhorn to enable him to live in Cambodia," said Ang Chanrith, executive director of the Khmer Kampuchea Krom Human Rights Organisation (KKKHRO).

He added that the local authorities were receptive to Tim Sakhorn's requests to remain in Cambodia permanently, but could not issue the documents without formal permission from the Ministry of Interior.

"The provincial deputy police chief with whom we met was willing to issue an identity card for Tim Sakhorn, but said he would wait to see a formal letter from the ministry," he said.

He added that KKKHRO and officials from the UN's Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) - who also met with Tim Sakhorn on Tuesday - had both contacted the ministry to request a letter confirming Tim Sakhorn's citizenship.

OHCHR representative Christophe Peschoux said his office was working to clarify the matter ahead of the Khmer New Year, but confirmed provincial authorities were "reluctant" to issue identity papers for Tim Sakhorn without approval.

He said that OHCHR, which has already been in contact with Ministry of Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak over the issue, had contacted the ministry again to request that it give the necessary permission.

"[Tim Sakhorn] is a Cambodian citizen, so he should have the right to stay legally, and with the protection of the Royal Government," he said.

Khieu Sopheak could not be reached for comment Thursday, while Khun Sophea, police chief of Takeo's Phnom Den commune, said he did not wish to discuss the issue over the phone.

In June 2007, Tim Sakhorn was arrested by Cambodian police and extradited to Vietnam's An Giang province, where a People's Tribunal sentenced him to one year in prison on charges of subverting the country's friendship with Cambodia.

[tim sakhorn] is a citizen, so he should have the right to stay legally...

Thach Setha, general director of the Khmer Kampuchea Krom Association, said Monday that since his release from prison in June 2008, the former activist has lived with an uncle in An Giang, where he has been subject to constant police scrutiny and has been banned from saying "anything that impacts the Cambodian or Vietnamese governments".
Back to Geneva

Meanwhile, the plight of southern Vietnam's ethnic Khmers - also known as Khmer Krom - is set to again come under the spotlight when Vietnam comes before the UN Human Rights Council on May 8 for a regular review of its rights record.

In its submission to the council, the US-based Khmer Kampuchea Krom Federation has highlighted the "human rights violations, confiscation of ancestral lands and [the] economic and social deprivations" of the Khmer minority.  

It also cited Tim Sakhorn's case as an example of how Vietnamese laws "only work for those who are in power and not for those who are powerless".

The Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation (UNPO) also presented a submission noting the "numerous incidents of religiously motivated violence and discrimination" against Khmer Krom populations.

It also termed Tim Sakhorn's continuing house arrest, which it claims is in violation of a ruling by the tribunal that sentenced him, is an attempt by Vietnamese officials to "further intimidate" Khmer Krom both in Vietnam and Cambodia.

Rights groups say the public accounting could put pressure on Vietnam to liberalise its policies towards ethnic Khmers living in the country's south.

"An open accounting at next month's review of Vietnam's rights record will put pressure on the Vietnamese government to address serious human rights abuses throughout the country, including the Mekong Delta," Brad Adams, Asia director of the US-based Human Rights Watch, said by email.

But Kek Galabru, president of local human rights group Licadho, said there was a possibility Tim Sakhorn's release was in fact timed to precede the UN rights review.

"[The UN review] could also be a factor," she said Monday, when asked what prompted his visit to Cambodia.

"The Vietnamese government knows pretty well that the UN will ask these questions."

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