Vietnam to send monks to Spratly Islands

March 13, 2012 at 6:30 AM
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HANOI, Vietnam, March 13 (UPI) -- Vietnam will send six Buddhist monks to occupy refurbished shrines and religious buildings on several islands in the disputed Spratly Islands group.

The monks are being sent by local authorities in Vietnam's southern province of Khanh Hoa, which is responsible for the administration of around 30 islands, some occupied by civilians and soldiers, the BBC said.

The temples were last inhabited in 1975 but were recently renovated to assert Vietnamese sovereignty over the Spratly Islands, which are off Vietnam in the South China Sea, the BBC report said.

The BBC report gave no details of when the monks would go or to what islands.

As well as Vietnam and China, ownership of various islands and reefs -- some only visible at low tide -- are disputed by Brunei, Taiwan, Malaysia and the Philippines, although Brunei doesn't occupy any of the islands.

The dispute has erupted into open military confrontation on occasions, such as the brief 1988 Johnson South Reef skirmish between China and Vietnam in which about 70 Vietnamese military personnel were killed.

"I will offer prayers for them to empower their souls to reach peace and relieve their sufferings," Thich Giac Nghia, one of the monks who volunteered to go, told the BBC.

Thich, who said he would pray for "anyone of the Vietnamese race" killed trying to defend the islands, decided to go after attending a memorial service for Vietnamese sailors killed by the Chinese military in 1988.

While the Spratly Islands have little significance in themselves, the seabed surrounding the islands is thought to contain large amounts of minerals as well as oil and natural gas reserves.

Many countries are wary of China's intentions toward the islands, especially since May when China said it plans to increase marine patrols by at least 10 percent in the face of what it claimed were increasing incursions into its territorial waters.

Beijing authorities said they were going to recruit around 1,000 sailors to join to the 9,000 employed by China's marine service.

Earlier this month, a Vietnamese Foreign Ministry spokesman Luong Thanh Nghi said Vietnam would continue to protect its fishermen around the Spratly Hoang Sa Archipelago from harassment by Chinese vessels.

China used force to threaten 11 fishermen on a vessel from Vietnam's Quang Ngai Province, preventing them from sheltering among the island to avoid severe storms, a report by the government Vietnam News Service said.

The Chinese force is also reported to have assaulted the fishermen and to have tried to take their property, the report said.

"Vietnamese fishermen have moved freely in the territorial waters surrounding those two archipelagos for ages," Luong said.

"They behaved in accordance with international laws, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea 1982. China has seriously infringed upon (Vietnam's) sovereign right and jurisdiction right."

Luong also said Vietnamese and Chinese officials have been meeting to find peaceful solutions to issues include fishing rights.

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