An investigation into a land dispute in Vietnam’s capital Hanoi that sparked a rare standoff between farmers and authorities in April has determined that the site belongs to the military, a municipal body said Tuesday, prompting residents to demand a review of the findings.
Farmers say the government is seizing 47 hectares (116 acres) of their farmland in My Duc district’s Dong Tam commune for the military-run Viettel Group—the country’s largest mobile phone operator—without adequately compensating them.
As part of negotiations to end April’s week-long standoff, during which farmers detained dozens of police officers and officials, Hanoi’s mayor pledged not to prosecute residents and to investigate their claims in the land dispute regarding the boundaries of Dong Tam’s Mieu Mon Airport.
On Tuesday, the Hanoi Inspectorate announced that after conducting a “comprehensive inspection on the management, use, and handling of the land area,” it had determined that the military administers all airport land, which it said encompasses 236.7 hectares (584.9 acres).
The Inspectorate said it had based its findings on decisions issued by then-Prime Minister Pham Van Dong on April 14, 1980, the People’s Committee of Ha Son Binh province on Nov. 10, 1981, and the Hanoi Municipal People’s Committee on Oct. 20, 2014.
It acknowledged that the military had “made several mistakes in management” of the land, including allowing area residents to use it after a rental contract expired in 2012 and failing to relocate certain households before 1980, leading to illegal encroachment and construction.
The Inspectorate ordered the Hanoi People's Committee to request that the Ministry of Defense instruct military units on how to better manage the land, and called for an immediate end to all lease and rental activity.
Following the announcement, one Dong Tam farmer told RFA’s Vietnamese Service on condition of anonymity that he and other residents “disagree with the investigation’s conclusions.”
“The people of Dong Tam want to meet directly with the Hanoi Inspectorate for dialogue,” he said, adding that a meeting had already been requested.
Le Dinh Kinh, an 82-year-old farmer who was among four Dong Tam residents arrested by police on April 15 for allegedly “disturbing public order” prior to the standoff, told Dan Viet News that the Mieu Mon Airport only comprises a clearly demarcated 47.4 hectares (117 acres), and the remainder is agricultural land belonging to the people.
He also expressed frustration that after the Inspectorate announced a draft conclusion of its findings on July 7, residents were not allowed to review the findings.
Police arrested several farmers from Dong Tam on April 15 for allegedly causing social unrest during a clash between authorities and commune residents over the airport land.
Other farmers responded by detaining 38 police officers and local officials, and threatened to kill them if security personnel attacked them a second time.
Two days after the clash, police released some of the farmers they had arrested. In return, the farmers freed 15 riot police, but continued to detain 20, while three others escaped.
On April 20, the farmers boycotted a meeting with Hanoi Mayor Nguyen Duc Chung who was ordered to negotiate the release of the 20 police officers and local officials.
He traveled to the My Duc district People’s Committee building about 40 kilometers (25 miles) from central Hanoi to discuss the hostage situation, but the farmers wanted him to visit with them directly in Dong Tam, according to a local media report issued at the time.
The standoff ended on April 22 when the farmers freed the 20 officers and officials after the mayor pledged to investigate their complaints and not prosecute the villagers.
In June, police opened a criminal investigation into the farmers of Dong Tam, despite Chung’s promise, focusing on the illegal detention of the 38 police officers and officials and acts of vandalism allegedly committed during the clash.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Emily Peyman. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.