Authorities in northern Vietnam on Monday arrested a local official for his part in the violent removal of a soldier-turned-farmer from state land in an eviction case that had been widely criticized by the state media and drew the surprise intervention of the prime minister.
But evicted family members of former soldier Doan Van Vuon—who is still in jail following his arrest over the Jan. 5 case—said the action was taken too late and did not go far enough in punishing those responsible for the eviction incident.
Nguyen Van Khanh, deputy chairman of the Tien Lang district People’s Committee in Haiphong city, was taken into custody on charges of “destruction of property” during the January eviction of Doan Van Vuon and his family, state media reported.
He will be held for four months while authorities investigate the incident.
Khanh had directed a team sent to evict Vuon on Jan .5, but was met with substantial resistance in the form of homemade landmines and family members firing improvised shotguns. Four policemen and two soldiers were seriously wounded in the melee.
Khan then sent reinforcements of about 100 police officers and soldiers wearing bullet-proof vests and riot gear to repossess the 19-hectare (47-acre) leased swampland which Vuon had converted into a seafood farm, allegedly beating residents.
Vuon, two of his brothers, and a nephew were arrested and remain in prison.
‘Nothing to be happy about’
Khanh’s arrest followed widespread attention to the case by Vietnam's state-controlled media and Internet blogs, which condemned the attack by the farmers while also questioning whether authorities had the right to use force to eject the family from leased state land.
Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung had personally called for an investigation into the case in January. Khanh was suspended from his post the following month.
But Pham Thi Bau, the wife of Vuon’s brother Doan Van Quy, told RFA’s Vietnamese service that Khanh’s arrest had done nothing to improve her family’s situation.
"We have nothing to be happy about,” said Bau, whose husband continues to languish in prison and whose home was destroyed by authorities in what she calls an illegal eviction.
“First of all, the action was taken too late and secondly, ‘the big rat was left untouched, while small ones were sacrificed’,” she said, implying that higher-level officials should have been targeted for authorizing the eviction.
“Le Van Hien, the signatory of the illegal eviction decision, is unpunished. We feel indignant," she said referring to the previous chairman of the Tien Lang district People’s Committee.
Bau said her family saw Khanh as a scapegoat, noting that several other officials of the committee, including Hien, had only been demoted and transferred to other positions.
Critics of the government’s handling of the land dispute have called for an investigation into whether the eviction of Vuon and his family was “undertaken in the interest of the nation.”
Vuon was given the land to farm under a 14-year lease but reports said the local government wanted it back to house an infrastructure project and to rent the remaining area at a higher cost.
State media have reported that Vuon was the mastermind of the attack against those who came to retake the land.
It said that he had long been at odds with authorities after his land lease came to an end and he stopped paying rent following a failure in negotiations on new terms.
Vuon’s family says that they had spent many years and resources to develop the land, but that authorities took it back without offering them anything in compensation.
All land in Vietnam belongs to the state and people only have the right to use it. Land expropriation has been linked to several incidents of unrest in recent years.
Some have suggested that Vuon and his family had felt backed into a corner and were prepared to defend their investment at any cost.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese service. Translated by An Nguyen. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.