Vietnam Priest Dismisses Claims Formosa Activists Sparked Violence

2017-03-20
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Dang Huu Nam addresses Formosa protesters in Ky Anh district, in an undated photo.
Dang Huu Nam addresses Formosa protesters in Ky Anh district, in an undated photo.
Photo courtesy of Giáo Xứ Phú Yên

A Catholic priest in Vietnam on Monday dismissed official claims that activists instigated a violent confrontation with local authorities during a February protest over the government’s handling of a toxic waste spill off the country’s central coast.

Dang Huu Nam of the Phu Yen parish, under central Vietnam’s Roman Catholic Vinh Diocese, told RFA he wrote a letter rejecting accusations by officials in Nghe An province that activists protesting Hanoi’s settlement with the Formosa steel plant over its toxic waste spill had touched off the clash.

“I just sent a reply today, following letter number 1022 of the Nghe An People’s Committee about the march on Feb. 14,” Nam told RFA’s Vietnamese Service.

“We reiterate that there was nothing wrong in what priest Thuc and his parishioners did. What they did was civil and should be encouraged. The government should have helped the people to exercise their rights.”

On Feb. 14, Catholic priest Nguyen Dinh Thuc led around 500 mostly Song Ngoc parishioners to deliver a petition to authorities in in Ha Tinh province’s Ky Anh district demanding adequate compensation for the losses caused by the spill in April, which poisoned much of the central coast.

Police set upon the group, beating and arresting several demonstrators, sources told RFA at the time. Thuc claimed to have been beaten in the melee, but was rescued by fellow petitioners.

On Monday, Nam told RFA that thousands of parishioners gathered Sunday for a church service in Song Ngoc and then marched to the local government office to protest Formosa.

“Parishioners from Manh Son, Vinh Yen, Cam Truong and Phu Yen went to Song Ngoc to attend a prayer service—there were 7,000 people at its peak,” Nam said.

“After the service, we marched to the Quynh Ngoc village office to express our concerns and then returned home,” he said, adding that authorities observed the march, but did not intervene.

Toxic spill

In June, the Taiwan-owned Formosa Plastics Group acknowledged it was responsible for the release of toxic chemicals from its massive steel plant located at the deep-water port in Ky Anh district.

The spill killed an estimated 115 tons of fish and left fishermen and tourism industry workers jobless in four central provinces. Vietnam's government said in a report to the National Assembly in July that the disaster had harmed the livelihoods of more than 200,000 people, including 41,000 fishermen.

The company pledged U.S. $500 million to clean up and compensate people affected by the spill, but the government has faced protests over the amount of the settlement and the slow pace of payouts.

Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc had ordered compensation for the affected people by the end of 2016, but many have yet to receive any money.

Vietnam’s one-party communist state closely controls and monitors the Catholic community, the second largest religious group in the country after the Buddhists. Vietnamese Catholics have also been at the forefront of Formosa protests.

In August, more than 200 policemen blocked and assaulted some 4,000 Catholic parishioners who tried to march to Ky Anh township’s administrative offices to protest government inaction over their loss of livelihood following the massive pollution-linked fish kill.

Before that, the marchers tried several times to demand relief from provincial authorities, but the police always stopped them, according to protesters.

Formosa Plastics’ U.S. $10.6 billion steel complex in Ha Tinh province includes a steel plant, a power plant and a deep sea port, and is one of the largest foreign investments in Vietnam.

Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Viet Ha. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

Comments (4)
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Anh Ba

from Nha Hat Ha noi

when vietnamese people will stand up for themselves? are they just gonna wait and let China kill them with Toxic chemical? Vietnamese people are in a hopeless situation now. And why United States are not putting a sanction on China for polluting and destroying international sea.
we can not just think about protect a country's interest any more. We have to protect this earth, our planet is being destroy by China. We all need to wake up, or Earth will be destroyed.

May 29, 2017 10:36 AM

Hate Communist

from ghet bac Ho

Mary Pham, allow me to paint you a picture!
There is no VNmese organization oversea can/will send $$$ to entice ‘anti-government marches’ – let alone enriches the priests. The true is VNmese people are fed up with injustice and you communist scums should be concerned. It’s coming – more and frequently!
These organizations barely can raise enough $$$ to help build churches, natural disasters, and orphanages. By now you know, I’m into all that; hence; I can speak and write with commands for I don’t believe in lips services! Unlike you, spewing lies and venomous. Yes, we would love to do more – anything to lift the burdens and free our people from a mindless stooge as you and your ‘Party’.
About the priest, my great uncle was a priest. With his academic achievements, he could be anything. But, he chose to serve the 1 and living God. For the rest of his life, his entire possession was only 2 habits (priest clothing) and an old rusted bicycle. All his salary was donated to scholarship fund so students can study abroad. At the age of 70 and after years of planning he finally escaped from VN with 12 orphans. Years later, his body was rested at De LaSalle Christian Brothers Cemetery. I didn’t know then, but it was an honor to be with him during that last hour.
That is how we live – to serve others. It’s the passion for truth and life.
But not you, you was indoctrinated by goons without morals. I encourage you to challenge/question the ‘systems’ and do the right things.

Mar 21, 2017 01:51 PM

Mary Pham

from Ha Tinh

Trouble makers disguised as priests and environmental activists are becoming smelly campaign and melt away soon. What left will be heart-broken parishioners and wealthy Catholic leaders with overseas monies. RFA can continue to put out these propaganda but no Vietnamese pays any attention!

Mar 21, 2017 09:55 AM

Hate Communist

from ghet bac Ho

This is so kick-ass, held a mass before the march! Wish I was there, raising heck with the boys! This is how it supposed to be. I’m salivating at the chance to march with you all.
Praise the Lord and pass the ammunitions, praise the Lord and pass the ammunitions, God is on ours sides!
We aren’t taking this crud lying down no more!
Please, come and join this march. This is historic. Unlike our ancestors, we aren’t going to battle fields and raise the flag; anytime soon; so this is as close as it gets. There is no Tran Hung Dao, Le Loi, or Quang Trung to save us this time. It’s just you and your neighbors.
There are no sins asking for justice and fairness. Both God and our ancestors have never forbidden those values. No one on earth should take those from us! Don’t let their fights and deaths go in vain. You can/will overcome and take back what is rightly yours.
For years I know religions are very strong in VN and no one can’t touches them - then or even now. These Communist will lose if they ever persecute religions – especially the Catholics. I wish this day will come sooner for sooner VN will be free. God will take vengeance upon his enemies.
Perhaps the Communist goons have forgotten whom they supposed to serve and think for themselves. I challenge them to think for once then they will know that the people are right and deserve a fair treatment.
March on and fight a good fight!

Mar 20, 2017 04:11 PM

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