New Clashes in Land Dispute

Villagers near Vietnam’s capital battle with ‘thugs’ hired to clear their land for a development project.

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Villagers confront security personnel who came to seize their land in Van Giang district in the outskirts of Vietnam's capital Hanoi, April 24, 2012.
Photo courtesy of a citizen journalist.

Clashes broke out between villagers and a group of men hired to clear their land for a controversial development site on the outskirts of the Vietnamese capital Friday, leaving several villagers injured and others vowing to protect their homes should demolition crews return, sources said.

The site in Hung Yen province’s Van Giang district has been the scene of a number of confrontations over the past several years since local authorities granted the developer 500 hectares (1,235 acres) of land used by the villagers.

The villagers say the land allocation was made without fair negotiations and have refused to leave.

One villager, who spoke to RFA’s Vietnamese service on condition of anonymity, said that a group of “thugs” hired by the developer accompanied heavy machinery onto the land Friday in an attempt to clear villagers away.

“This morning, five caterpillars came to clear the land. Some of us rode motorbikes to drive them away,” the villager said.

“They continued to advance and some thugs who we believe were hired by [the developer] started beating us,” he said.

“One of us has a broken arm and another was beaten about the head. Others have shoulder and hand injuries.”

The villager said that the person with the broken arm was a woman and that the person with the head injury was a man. All of those wounded during the clash had been brought to hospital for treatment and x-rays.

“We did not notify the police or local authorities because we know that these agencies will not protect us anymore,” he said.

“In the future, if they come to clear our land, all our people will show up to protect it."

Scale downplayed

He said that some of the villagers had traveled to the office of the National Assembly, or Vietnamese parliament, in Hanoi on Thursday to voice their objections to recent comments made by Minister of Environment and Natural Resources Nguyen Minh Quang that they said reduced the scale of the dispute.

According to state media, Quang addressed the National Assembly Wednesday acknowledging that residents were not happy with the government's policies.

Quang claimed that the EcoPark project aims to move only 160 households from a five-hectare (12-acre) area in Van Giang. He said that after villagers had voiced their concerns over the project his ministry had sent a mission to the site to study the situation.

Villagers contend that local authorities had granted developer Viet Hung Co. Ltd. some 500 hectares (1,235 acres) of their land without holding talks with their representatives.

Long-running feud

Viet Hung has planned to build EcoPark, a satellite city with investment costs estimated at around U.S. $250 million, on the site since 2004.

The project was halted following a series of protests in 2006, but villagers say development has since restarted.

In April, the district was the scene of one of the biggest land confrontations in Vietnam as about 2,000 villagers hurled rocks and Molotov cocktails at a larger group of armed security forces moving to seize their land.

Backed by bulldozers, cranes, and excavators, several thousand police, military personnel, and unidentified men not in uniform moved in to clear the site.

In the seven-hour siege, police fired warning shots and fired tear gas to keep the people at bay while the farmers resisted by throwing bricks, glass bottles, stones, and Molotov cocktails, witnesses said. Some twenty protesters were arrested by security forces.

All land in Vietnam belongs to the state, and people only have the right to use it. Land expropriation has been linked to several high-profile incidents of unrest in recent years.

Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung in February called for a revamp to the country’s land management policies and vowed to punish corrupt local officials involved in illegal land grabs.

Dung also warned officials to ensure that evictions and land seizures are carried out "in strict accordance with the law."

Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese service. Translated by An Nguyen. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.


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