During Khmer Krom activist Tim Sakhorn's temporary visit to Cambodia, rights groups say they will lobby the govt and UN in a bid to head off his return to Vietnam next week.
Khmer Krom monks at Wat Samaki Reangsay, a spiritual centre for exiles in Phnom Penh's Meanchey district.
DESPITE being allowed to return to Cambodia after nearly two years of detention in Vietnam, former Buddhist monk Tim Sakhorn faces an uphill battle to extend his stay beyond the Khmer New Year.
The 41-year-old Khmer Krom activist arrived in Takeo province Saturday, where he attended a funeral ceremony for his mother and religious services at Wat Phnom Den in Kiri Vong district.
But his visa is only valid until April 17, and local and international rights groups are campaigning to head off his impending forced return to Vietnam.
"We are now trying to find ways to intervene and allow Tim Sakhorn to return to Cambodia to live with his relatives, since he is not willing to return to Vietnam," said Thach Setha, general director of the Khmer Kampuchea Krom Association.
"It is a violation of human rights to separate him from his family and clamp down on his freedom of speech."
Thach Setha said also that the former activist has been under the close eye of the authorities since his arrival in Takeo and could risk further jail time if he speaks out against the Vietnamese or Cambodian governments.
"Tim Sakhorn feels scared for his safety and fears speaking openly now that police are patrolling around his house and [near the pagoda] during the ceremony," he said.
Ang Chanrith, executive director of the Khmer Kampuchea Krom Human Rights Organisation, said that Tim Sakhorn could not meet with reporters Tuesday due to fears for his security.
But in a Monday interview with Radio Free Asia, Tim Sakhorn said that he had been "forced" to live in Vietnam and said he wanted to return home to Cambodia.
"I want to stay with my father and my brother in my hometown and farm the land," he said during the interview.
"I am calling on the Royal Government, the King, the United Nations and other NGOs to help me stay in the country and guarantee my security."
It is a violation of human rights to separate him from his family.
Senior CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap said the state would do its best to ensure a legal resolution to Tim Sakhorn's requests.
"The state will do its best to guarantee his Cambodian citizenship," he said, but added that the fact that Tim Sakhorn holds a Vietnamese passport might complicate matters.
"This issue will be considered by the Royal Government and the King."
Christophe Peschoux, country representative of the UN's Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), confirmed UN officials would meet Tuesday with Tim Sakhorn to assess the nature of his situation and "how his rights should be best protected".
"Being a Cambodian national, Tim Sakhorn should be able to remain in Cambodia if he wishes so, and his citizen's rights and safety should be protected by the Royal Government," Peschoux said by email.
Tim Sakhorn's fate after April 17 will likely hinge on perceptions about the legality of his arrest and extradition. On June 30, 2007, Tim Sakhorn, a leading activist for the rights of ethnic Khmers in southern Vietnam - also known as Khmer Krom - was arrested in Takeo by Cambodian police and defrocked by senior monks before being extradited to Vietnam.
In November, a People's Tribunal in Vietnam's An Giang province sentenced him to one year in prison on charges of violating national unity under Article 87 of the country's penal code.
One of the crimes under this article is that of "undermining the implementation of policies for international solidarity".
Non Nget, supreme patriarch of the Buddhist Mohanikay sect - whom Tim Sakhorn claimed in Monday's interview was responsible for defrocking him after his arrest - told the Post he had little sympathy for the arrested monk.
"I have not paid any interest to Tim Sakhorn's arrival in Cambodia," he said. "He broke Buddhist discipline when he incited people and attempted to destroy the friendship between Cambodia and Vietnam."
But activists say the extradition was illegal and that the government has a legal obligation to allow him to remain in Cambodia. Ang Chanrith said Tim Sakhorn was a Cambodian citizen under local laws, which also provide protections against unlawful deportation.
Article 2 of the Kingdom's 1996 Law on Nationality states that "any person who has Khmer nationality/citizenship is a Khmer citizen", and is therefore exempt from being "deprived of nationality, exiled or extradited to any foreign country unless upon [sic] there is mutual agreement".
Although a Kampuchea Krom native, Tim Sakhorn moved to Cambodia in 1979 and was a full Cambodian citizen by the time of his arrest. In a 2007 report, OHCHR argued that Tim Sakhorn's deportation was a "prima facie violation" of these prohibitions.
Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch, described his condition in Vietnam in the past year as one of "illegal house arrest" and said the ex-monk also enjoyed protection under international refugee agreements to which the Kingdom is a party.
"The Cambodian government should abide by the [1951 UN] Refugee Convention by not deporting people to countries where they have a well-founded fear of persecution," he said.
"The Cambodian government - and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees - should provide protection to Khmer Krom fleeing persecution in Vietnam, allowing them to seek asylum in Cambodia if they want."
Vietnamese embassy spokesman Trinh Ba Cam could not be reached for comment Tuesday.