HANOI, Oct 8 (Reuters) – Two leaders of a banned Vietnam Buddhist group were prevented from leaving their monastery on Wednesday by security forces who surrounded their vehicle, sparking a standoff, a Buddhist group said.
The International Buddhist Information Bureau said in a statement that Thich Huyen Quang, patriarch of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) and his deputy Thich Quang Do, were trying to leave in a van for Ho Chi Minh City.
The two, who were travelling with nine others, were confronted by security police “along with a group of about 40 people,” the statement said.
“The police blocked the road, intercepted the monks’ van and banned them from leaving the monastery,” the statement said.
That prompted the 11 men to say they would not leave the van, which was outside the Nguyen Thieu Monastery in Binh Dinh province, according to the statement. The monastery is about 650 km north of Ho Chi Minh City.
The two elderly leaders, toward both of whom Hanoi has made some concessions recently, went on a hunger strike in protest, and by Wednesday afternoon some 200 monks and 1,000 Buddhist followers had surrounded the van, a report from the group said. The Foreign Ministry did not have an immediate comment, and an official at the Tuy Phuong District police station in the province told Reuters : “It’s been dispersed, but I am not sure if they went to Ho Chi Minh City or stayed there.”
The events are a step back from apparent conciliatory developments between Hanoi and the UBCV, which was replaced by a state-sanctioned group in 1981.
The government released Do in June about two months before his two-year house arrest term was up, and allowed an unprecedented meeting between Prime Minister Phan Van Khai and Quang in April.
Diplomats in Hanoi said they were unable to independently verify the events. But European Union representatives said they had “expressed concern” to Vietnamese authorities.
The EU has been tracking the case of Quang and Do and a delegation sought unsuccessfully to visit Do in September 2002.
Another diplomat said the reported restraints were puzzling.
“It’s hard to understand their (Vietnam’s) motivation,” he said, adding it went counter to recent trends of reconciliation.
Vietnam recognises six religions, including Buddhism, but requires they submit to its scrutiny in all aspects of operation.