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AP : Vietnam says monks from banned church illegally set up secret organization

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Associated Press - http://www.ap.org


Vietnam on Saturday accused members of a banned Buddhist church of illegally setting up an organization without receiving state permission, obtaining documents that contain state secrets and assaulting authorities.

The Paris-based International Buddhist Information Bureau dismissed the allegations as totally absurd, and charged that the communist government was launching a crackdown on members of the outlawed sect. Thich Huyen Quang, 86, and Thich Quang Do, 74, leaders of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, along with several followers, were pulled over by traffic police Thursday and accused of carrying documents from state agencies containing national secrets, Foreign Ministry spokesman Le Dung said in a statement.

Dung alleged that the two leaders had long “abused religion to undermine the whole people’s unity and Buddhism” despite leniency shown by the state. “Stemming from wrongful political motives and personal ambitions, they had intentionally violated laws,” he said. He gave no further details about the documents.

The Paris-based bureau claimed that the only documents the monks were carrying were minutes of a church assembly.

No charges have been filed against the monks, but Dung said the incident was being investigated. The statement said everyone in the vehicle had signed a confession, but didn’t elaborate on its contents.

Dung also alleged people in the monks’ van had assaulted authorities and doctors who had come to care for the monks, who are both believed to be in poor health.

Accusing the monks of carrying state secrets is “a totally absurd accusation, which demonstrates the total paranoia of the Vietnamese regime,” Buddhist bureau director Vo Van Ai said in a statement Saturday. “These men are simple Buddhist monks, whose sole wish is to freely and peacefully exercise their rights to freedom of religion and expression, just like all other people in civilized countries all over the world.”

Earlier, the bureau reported that the monks’ vehicle had been carrying 11 people in all and was surrounded by security police when it tried to leave Quang’s monastery in Binh Dinh province, 650 kilometers (400 miles) north of Ho Chi Minh City.

The group was eventually permitted to leave after scores of local Buddhists intervened, it said. Dung denied there had been any standoff and said in an earlier statement that both Quang and Do, a Nobel Peace Prize nominee, have been returned to their monasteries.

He said the incident involving the state secrets would be handled in accordance with Vietnamese laws and depending on “the attitudes of the men.”

The church, which has refused to accept Hanoi’s control, has been outlawed since 1981. Instead, the government recognizes the state-sanctioned Buddhist Church of Vietnam. Quang and Do have each spent more than 20 years in jail or under house arrest.

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