HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — A standoff between police and 11 followers of a banned Buddhist church, including eight monks, has ended with the group being allowed to leave the province in a minivan as planned, an official from an overseas Buddhist support group said Wednesday.
The monks, from the banned Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, were on their way to Ho Chi Minh City early Wednesday from the Nguyen Thieu Monastery in Binh Dinh province, 650 kilometers (400 miles) to the north, when their minivan was surrounded by security police, according to the Paris-based International Buddhist Information Bureau.
Calling from a mobile phone inside the vehicle, church patriarch Thich Huyen Quang told the bureau that a crowd of about 40 people surrounded the van, flattened its tires and threw stones at the windows, according to a statement from the group.
Vietnamese officials did not immediately respond to the allegations.
Two hundred monks from the church and 1,000 other Buddhists from the province “formed a human wall around the van” to keep police from harassing the monks and towing the vehicle about 200 meters (220 yards) back to the monastery, a later statement said. Phone lines to the monastery were cut, it said.
“That pressure was sufficient in the end to pressure the security police to withdraw their ban on them traveling,” Penelope Faulkner, vice president of the bureau, said in a telephone interview. “It’s a success for us. It means the Buddhists have made their point because they came out en masse.”
Quang and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Thich Quang Do had said they would not leave the vehicle until police pulled back, and all 11 men remained seated in the minivan until they were allowed to leave, she said.
Faulkner said many of the monks and Buddhist followers traveled with the minivan to the provincial border, where police forced them to turn back. It was unclear if the group had encountered any other resistance, she said.
The church, which has refused to accept communist control, has been outlawed since the communists defeated the U.S.-supported government of South Vietnam in 1975. Instead, the government recognizes the state-sanctioned Buddhist Church of Vietnam.
Quang and Do have spent more than 20 years in jail or under house arrest.
Do, 74, who is deputy head of the church, was released from house arrest in June, while Quang, 86, had a historic meeting with Prime Minister Phan Van Khai earlier this year in Hanoi.
But the Buddhist support group said the monks have been under close scrutiny recently. Earlier this week, police told Do he must return to his monastery in Ho Chi Minh City. Quang then decided to go with Do to seek treatment for a throat condition, the statement said.