Guns Greet Land Protesters

Vietnam’s growing economic divide aggravates unrest.
2010-04-20
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Police block protesters from entering offices of the Provincial Party Committee.
Police block protesters from entering offices of the Provincial Party Committee.
Sent by a citizen reporter.

HANOI—Around 60 protesters, including farmers who fought in the Vietnam War on the side of the country’s communist government, staged a protest in central Vietnam, where they were blocked by security forces with raised firearms, protesters said.

“It’s true that the provincial People’s headquarters welcomed its people with guns,” said Ho Thi Bich Khuong, a prominent petitioner and rights activist from Nghe An province.

“They brought guns to block the people and threatened them,” she said.

A second eyewitness confirmed her report.

“The wounded veterans protested [Thursday and Friday],” said fellow protester Tran Van Huy.

“Some have lost a leg or an arm, and they came to lodge complaints, asking for justice for themselves and for society as a whole.”

“But the communists, now that they are in authority, turned around and greeted us with guns,” he said.

The Nghe An protests are the latest in a series of public outbreaks of unrest over the government’s acquisition of rural land, allegedly for property development.

Local war veteran and Communist Party member Pham Van Minh said he was disgusted at the scene. “It is a shame for our people,” he said.

Protesters from remote areas

“Nghe An has a fighting tradition,” he said.

“The people of Nghe An fought for the communists in order to have what they have today. But 35 years later, the Communist Party has turned around and taken our land away.”

Some protesters—most of whom complained about lost farmland—came from remote areas close to the border with Laos.

None of the petitioners was allowed to enter government buildings or approach the official complaints office, they said.

“Today I came to protest,” said petitioner Nguyen Thi Ngoc, from Nghia Dan district in the same province.

“The headquarters said that they would help us.”

“I waited until nightfall, but could not even get inside the building,” said Ngoc, who has been trying to pursue an official complaint for five years following the demolition of her home by local officials.

“I have been going to court for five years now,” she said, adding that her complaint was over the granting of some of her land to another man by a local official.

“When they were demolishing my house, I went to tell the police, but they told me that it was [someone else’s] land,” said Ngoc, who has taken her case all the way to Hanoi, but with no result.

Another petitioner, Du Thi Luc, said she had been petitioning the government over her family’s plot of farmland, which had been in their name since 1974.

“We are so unfortunate,” she said. “We filed a petition asking the government to solve this, but the government turned black to white and white to black. We don’t know where to go or who to turn to.”

Land grabs alleged

According to protester Tran Van Huy, most of the farmers’ and veterans' complaints are linked to land grabs by officials.

“The reality is that everything relates to land,” he said.

“The communists use all sort of lures and every way possible to steal our right to use the land, and then hand it to other people under the name of a building a project.”

“These projects are still not under way after three to four years, and the stolen land is just sitting there,” he said.

Complaints of corruption among rural officials have become widespread in recent years, as market-based reforms have widened economic disparities in the Vietnamese countryside.

Tensions over land distribution in the densely populated agricultural regions are the most likely trigger for unrest, experts say.

Original reporting in Vietnamese by Tran Van and Thanh Quang. Translated by Khoa Diem. Vietnamese service director: Khanh Nguyen. Executive producer: Susan Lavery. Written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.

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