Vietnam says Buddhist missions to archipelago not unusual

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Vietnam's foreign ministry on Friday said it is a normal civil activity for Vietnamese Buddhist monks to conduct religious missions on the Truong Sa (Spratly) Islands.

Ministry spokesman Luong Thanh Nghi made the statement in response to recent reports in local and international media that six Vietnamese bonzes would take control over pagodas on the islands.

He said the monks will decide when they will leave for their missions and how long they will stay.

Thich Giac Nghia, one of the bonzes, said in an interview with the local newswire VnExpress that he and his disciplines planned to stay for at least six months, though he hoped to stay longer.

Another bonze, Thich Thanh Thanh, said the trip to Truong Sa will be a chance for him to help locals who are living disadvantaged lives on the islands, which are prone to natural disasters, primarily storms.

Furthermore, the islands' typically quiet surroundings are suitable for their religious practices, Thanh said.

According to VnExpress, Truong Sa is currently home to three pagodas Truong Sa Lon, Sinh Ton and Song Tu Tay.

Every year local bonzes organize ceremonies to pray for the peace of the souls of people who died in the Truong Sa area, it said.

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