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AFP : Vietnam denies stand-off with dissident Buddhists

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HANOI, Oct 9 (AFP) – Vietnam denied Thursday that the head of an outlawed Buddhist church and his deputy had been prevented by security forces from leaving their monastery and travelling to Ho Chi Minh City.

The Paris-based International Buddhist Information Bureau (IBIB) said the two monks from the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) were involved in a 10-hour stand-off Wednesday in the central province of Binh Dinh.

Foreign ministry spokesman Le Dung dismissed the claims.

“We reject this ill-willed sheer fabrication by the so-called International Buddhist Information Bureau,” he told reporters. “As you are in Vietnam I wish you would understand the reality in Vietnam.”

The IBIB is the overseas information arm of the UBCV, which was outlawed by the communist regime in 1981 because it refused to become part of the state-sanctioned Buddhist church.

“It is absolutely untrue that security forces prevented Thich Huyen Quang or Thich Quang Do from travelling or that Thich Huyen Quang went on a hunger strike,” Dung added.

Quang, the 86-year-old UBCV head and Do, his 75-year-old deputy and a 2003 Nobel Peace Prize nominee, set off from the Nguyen Thieu Monastery for Ho Chi Minh City with six other monks and three lay-followers early Wednesday.

Shortly afterwards, security police and a group of about 40 people blocked the road and told the monks they were banned from leaving the monastery, according to the IBIB.

The van was eventually allowed to proceed after around 200 monks from the monastery and about 1,000 locals had formed a protective human wall around the vehicle.

Dung said he did not know the current whereabouts of Quang, Do or their fellow passengers. Calls to the Nguyen Thieu Monastery went unanswered.

An IBIB spokeswoman expressed concern Thursday for their safety, saying the mobile phones of all those in the van went unanswered.

Security police in Vietnam often cut the phone lines of dissidents, both political and religious, to prevent overseas rights groups from contacting them.

Wednesday’s stand-off followed a wave of harassment of UBCV monks which began early last month when police heard that Quang and Do had called a special UBCV assembly on September 16-19 to reorganize its structure.

The IBIB said dozens of monks were summoned for interrogation by police and threatened with reprisals if they attended the assembly or accepted positions within the church.


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