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Last Updated: Thursday, 9 October, 2003, 08:46 GMT 09:46 UK
Vietnam backs down over monks
Vietnamese monks
Religion in Vietnam is state-controlled
Vietnamese police are reported to have backed down over a tense stand-off with 11 members of a banned Buddhist organisation.

The group, including two veteran Buddhist leaders, had been holed up in a minivan in central Binh Dinh province for more than 10 hours on Wednesday, after security forces tried to stop them travelling to Ho Chi Minh City.

The minivan was at one point reportedly surrounded by about 200 monks from a nearby monastery and 1,000 Buddhist followers.

The van, carrying the 86-year-old patriarch of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, Thich Huyen Quang, and his 75-year-old deputy, Thich Quang Do, has now left for Ho Chi Minh.

"This is a victory for human rights in Vietnam," said the Paris-based International Buddhist Information Bureau (IBIB). "It appears the government had to back down in the face of public reaction. They wanted to avoid a large-scale confrontation."

The alleged stand-off began when Thich Quang Do, who has been staying with Thich Huyen Quang since last month, was summoned by the authorities in the Vietnamese capital.

Thich Huyen Quang decided to accompany him to seek medical treatment.

The pair said that they and six other monks and three followers were held up by police, who demanded that Thich Huyen Quang return to his monastery.

According to the IBIB, Thich Huyen Quang and Thich Quang Do said they had begun a hunger strike and would not move from the van in protest.

But Phan Phi Ho, deputy chief of the religious affairs committee in Binh Dinh, said the cause of the stand-off was supporters of the monks, who feared they would not return from Ho Chi Minh.

Penelope Faulkner, vice-chairwoman of the IBIB, said the two monks, who have both been Nobel peace prize nominees and are high-profile symbols of the human rights movement in Vietnam, were viewed by the government as a threat.

"Therefore, when they're together, the government is very unhappy," Ms Faulkner told BBC News Online.

Pagodas 'surrounded'

The incident coincided with reported unrest in the city of Hue, the traditional centre of support for the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV).

The IBIB said on Wednesday that undercover security police had been preventing monks and nuns from leaving 20 pagodas in Hue since Monday. Police there denied the claims.

Ms Faulkner said monks from Hue, along with Thich Huyen Quang and Thich Quang Do, had attended a meeting in September to discuss future plans for the UBCV which was raided by the authorities.

Thich Huyen Quang and Thich Quang Do have both spent more than 20 years in prison or under house arrest, after the Communist Party set up the state-approved Buddhist Church of Vietnam in 1981.

In June, the Vietnamese authorities released Thich Quang Do from house arrest. The move was welcomed by human rights groups, who believed it was a sign that the relationship between the government and the UBCV was improving.

But Ms Faulkner said that since September the authorities had stepped up interrogations and threats against the movement.

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14 Nov 00  |  Asia-Pacific
Country profile: Vietnam
24 May 03  |  Country profiles

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