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AFP : Dissident Vietnamese monks in vehicle stand-off with police

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HANOI, Oct 8, 2003 (AFP) – Two senior monks from an outlawed Buddhist Church in Vietnam were in a tense stand-off with security forces after their vehicle was surrounded and immobilised, overseas Buddhist sources said.

Thich Huyen Quang, patriarch of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV), and his deputy Thich Quang Do told the Paris-based International Buddhist Information Bureau (IBIB) Wednesday that they would not move from the vehicle.

Quang, who has been under effective house arrest without charge or trial in the central province of Quang Ngai for more than two decades, also told IBIB director Vo Van Ai by mobile phone that he had begun a hunger strike.

The two elderly monks set off at 5:00 am (2200 GMT Tuesday) for Ho Chi Minh City from the Nguyen Thieu Monastery in the central province of Binh Dinh accompanied by six other months and three lay-followers when security police suddenly appeared along with a group of about 40 people.

Police blocked the road, intercepted the monks vehicle and banned them from leaving the monastery, claiming that “the people did not want Thich Huyen Quang to go,” the IBIB said in a statement.

The 86-year-old patriarch and his 75-year-old deputy, a 2003 Nobel Peace Prize nominee, declared that they would not move from the car until the order was lifted and they were allowed to travel freely.

Speaking from inside the van near the monastery, Quang told Ai the situation was very tense and that the crowd had surrounded the vehicle, punctured its tyres, and thrown stones at the windows.

The Vietnamese foreign ministry was not immediately available for comment, and calls to the monastery went unanswered.

Wary of the UBCV’s popular support in a country where at least 70 percent of the population are Buddhists, the ruling Communist Party banned it in 1981 and created the Vietnamese Buddhist Church in its place.

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