Bor Bet and Sim Sovandy fled to avoid arrest after taking part in protest for the release of a trade union leader. The two spent over two months hiding in the forest, then after a two-day trip they crossed the border. Police and authorities searched for them at their temple and in their hometowns.
Phnom Penh (AsiaNews) – Two activist Buddhist monks arrived in Thailand after a long and difficult flight from Cambodia to escape arrest by the authorities.
The two say that Cambodia’s ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) targeted them for joining a protest campaign in July demanding the release of trade union leader Rong Chhun.
Bor Bet, 34, and Sim Sovandy, 54, told Radio Free Asia (RFA) that they followed a Khmer guide through the jungle for two nights and two days, before arriving at the border between the two countries.
After crossing into Thailand, they were taken by car to a safe place in central Thailand.
According to Bor Bet, the two monks decided to leave because the authorities were “hunting for us” in order to force them to be disrobed.
They became “wanted” because they had refused to join the CPP, resisting strong pressure by pro-government Buddhist clerical officials.
The two, who lived at Prayuvong Buddhist Temple in Phnom Penh, left on 4 August, hiding in the jungle near the Thai border, sleeping in the open, for over two months.
Since then, police and Buddhist clergy went looking for them at the temple and their hometowns.
The two monks believe that they were targeted for joining street protests demanding the release of Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Confederation of Trade Unions and a member of the Cambodian Watchdog Council.
Dozens of activists and members of civil society groups have condemned his arrest, calling for his release and acquittal from charges of "sedition" after he criticised the government’s handling of the border dispute with Vietnam.
Speaking to RFA, a spokesman for Phnom Penh Police Commission rejected claims that the authorities were trying to arrest the two monks.
However, Soeng Senkaruna, a spokesman for the Cambodian rights group ADHOC, believes that the two men are likely to be arrested if they return home.
From exile, the two monks have made it known that they plan to settle in Thailand, where they will again reengage actively in the fight for social justice in Cambodia.