Updated at 1:00 p.m. ET on 2014-03-07
A group of gun-toting men hired by the developer of a satellite city on the edge of Vietnam’s capital shot at unarmed farmers trying to reclaim rice fields which are to be flattened as part of the mega project, injuring five of them, one severely, sources said Tuesday.
The farmers were among residents in Hun Yen province’s Van Giang district whose protest against the confiscation of their farmland in April 2012 was brutally suppressed by the authorities.
Nearly two years after their protest, the dispute remains unsettled and residents of Phung Cong village, where the incident took place, are among those who have continued to petition the central government to have their land returned to them.
A source from Phung Cong, who spoke to RFA’s Vietnamese Service on condition of anonymity, said that on Monday, agents hired by the developer of the U.S. $8 billion dollar EcoPark project used home-made guns to fire at villagers who tried to regain their rice fields.
“While we were gathered near the confiscated land, some thugs shot at us with homemade guns,” he said.
“Five people were shot and one person had to be hospitalized. The other four people were sent home [from the hospital after receiving treated].”
The source said that farmers had contacted the authorities when the men arrived earlier that day and began threatening them, but their calls for protection were ignored.
“This morning we attempted to work our fields to protect our land and the thugs came out, threatening us,” he said.
By noon, the men had “brought out a big sack of homemade guns,” the source said, and the farmers knew “they were going to do something to us.”
But despite their calls for assistance, “no local authorities came out to talk with us,” he said.
“They ignored this incident, letting the thugs shoot us.”
The source said that the farmers had avoided the use of weapons or other violent means to reclaim their land because they do not want to violate the law.
He referred to the high profile case of farmer Doan Van Vuon, who was hailed as a hero after he and his family put up an armed resistance against the seizure of his fish farm in Hai Phong by security forces two years ago.
Vuon was sentenced in April 2013 to five years in jail for attempted murder after seven policemen were injured in the raid.
Local land activist Le Hien Duc said that he had placed a call to the local police ministry after he was notified by farmers about the men, who he said authorities confirmed had been hired by EcoPark developer Viet Hung Urban Development and Investment Company.
“This morning I received news from the farmers that [thugs] drove to their field, carrying scores of handmade guns, so I called the police ministry,” he said.
“Someone at the police ministry told me that [the men] were not policemen and that they were thugs hired by Viet Hung … When they attacked the people it was the police’s responsibility to protect us.”
Sources said that around 300 farmers remained at the rice fields during the evening on Tuesday to protect the land, while the hired men continued to remain in the area and threaten them.
They said that the local government had yet to respond to the incident.
Farmers in Van Giang district have staged protests occasionally since the EcoPark project was launched five years ago, claiming that the government granted 500 hectares (1,200 acres) that they used as farmland to the developers without proper consultation or compensation.
In one of the biggest land clashes in the country in recent years, thousands of security forces suppressed a mass protest by the residents in April 2012, with police firing warning shots and tear gas while farmers resisted by throwing bricks, glass bottles, stones, and Molotov cocktails.
Land for the EcoPark project was confiscated in two stages in 2009 and 2012, but thousands of households refused to take compensation from the government, saying the amount offered was significantly lower than what they were owed.
Following the clash in 2012, residents submitted a complaint to the Van Giang People’s Court in May, suing the district chairman over their initial 2009 eviction.
In August 2012, the court returned their complaint, saying it was refusing the case because there was not enough evidence.
Part of a long-term urban planning scheme for Hanoi, the EcoPark project was approved by the government for development by Viet Hung.
In Vietnam, all land belongs to the state, with people having only the right to use it, and expropriation has been linked to several high-profile incidents of unrest.
Reported by Mac Lam for RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.
Correction: An earlier version of this story said the incident took place on Tuesday, Feb. 11 instead of Monday, Feb. 10.