A standoff between authorities and a group of farmers over a land dispute in Vietnam’s capital Hanoi ended on Saturday with the farmers freeing 19 police officers they had held hostage for a week after winning a city government pledge to investigate their complaints and not prosecute the villagers.
Hanoi mayor Nguyen Duc Chung emerged from two hours of talks with 50 farmers from the village of Dong Tam pledging a "comprehensive investigation" into the decades-old dispute that would produce a response in 45 days, according to state media and a copy of the written agreement seen by RFA's Vietnamese Service.
He also said that those who took dozens of police officers hostage since April 15 would not be prosecuted and thanked villagers for treating the captive police well.
Chung then went to the House of Culture and signed an agreement and accepted the handover of 19 officers, the last of 38 riot police and local officials taken the previous weekend.
The Dong Tam standoff was sparked by an April 15 clash between police and the farmers, who say the government is seizing 47 hectares (116 acres) of their farmland for the military-run Viettel Group—the country’s largest mobile phone operator—without adequately compensating them.
Police had arrested several farmers for allegedly causing social unrest, and other farmers responded by detaining 38 police officers and local officials, and threatening to burn them alive with petrol if security personnel attack again.
By April 17, villagers freed 15 police officers, while three other detainees managed to escape by themselves. Nineteen people were still being held until Saturday's talks in Dong Tam, where farmers had erected barricades to prevent anyone from entering
In the meantime, the mayor has ordered Viettel to cease construction on the disputed land until a resolution is reached.
The authorities maintain that the farmers have illegally occupied land earmarked for the military nearly 40 years ago, which was allocated to Viettel in 2015 to build a defense-related project.
The farmers believe the land is zoned for agricultural, rather than military, purposes and say Viettel has no right to use it. They have suggested that they will vacate the land if the central government confirms it as military-zoned—provided they are adequately compensated.
While all land in Vietnam is ultimately held by the state, land confiscations have become a flashpoint as residents accuse the government of pushing small landholders aside in favor of lucrative real estate projects, and of paying too little in compensation to those whose land is taken.
Many petitioners who seek justice and demand adequate compensation for their land have been beaten and imprisoned by authorities on allegations of causing public disorder under Article 245 of Vietnam’s Penal Code.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Chan Nhu Hoang. Written in English by Paul Eckert.