HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — Eleven followers of a banned church, including eight monks, were holed up in a minivan and refusing to eat Wednesday after their vehicle was surrounded by Vietnamese authorities, a Buddhist support organization said.
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 cell 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.
Quang and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Thich Quang Do said they had begun a hunger strike and would not leave the vehicle until police pulled back, and all 11 men remained seated in the minivan Wednesday morning, the statement said.
Vietnamese officials did not immediately respond to questions about the incident.
The church was outlawed after the installation of the state-sanctioned Buddhist Church of Vietnam in 1981. 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 Vietnamese 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.