Hundreds of farmers from three locations in Vietnam protested in Hanoi on Tuesday to demand the return of land they say was taken away by the government and granted to developers without proper negotiations.
The three groups of farmers congregated outside of the capital’s National Assembly (parliament) building holding signs that called for officials to halt development plans for the land they claimed was their only source of livelihood.
Several protesters were detained while the others continued to camp outside parliament, vowing to press ahead with the demonstrations until their colleagues were released.
Farmers from Van Giang in neighboring Hung Yen province said local authorities granted developer Viet Hung Co. Ltd. some 500 hectares (1,235 acres) of their land without conducting fair negotiations with their representatives.
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 the farmers say development has since restarted.
A farmer from Van Giang, which is situated some 50 kilometers (31 miles) southeast of Hanoi, told RFA that protesters had decided to appeal to the central government because their demands were being ignored at the local level.
“We have gathered to demand our rights,” he said.
“[The local government] took our land … without any explanation, so we have been forced to ask for our land back.”
Agence France Presse reported that the farmers, mostly older people and women, held signs saying: "EcoPark robbed land from the people."
“They took around 2,100 square meters [22,604 square feet] of my family's land for road construction. We do not accept the compensation they offered. We don't want to lose our land for this project,” farmer Vu Thi Thu told the news agency, adding that the group was seeking “intervention” from central officials.
‘We are destitute’
Another group of farmers from the western Duong Noi suburb of Hanoi questioned the local government’s decision to take their land to build a new residential complex.
The nearly 1,000 hectares (2,500 acres) of land in Duong Noi, an urban section of Ha Dong town, were approved for development by the local People's Committee of Ha Tay province in December of 2007.
“There are many people … gathered here,” one farmer from Duong Noi told RFA.
“The [local government] took our land. We are destitute,” he said, adding that he had tried for four years to have his land returned.
“They just won’t do anything for our demands.”
The farmer said that many of the protesters had run out of resources and were left hungry after local developers bulldozed their rice paddy fields which had been ready for harvest.
“We don’t know what to do other than ask the government and the national assembly to help us,” he said.
Another farmer from Duong Noi told RFA that the loss of his land was “worse than death.”
“We need our land to survive, so we are determined to ask for our resources back,” he said.
He said the Duong Noi protesters had threatened to self-immolate in protest if local authorities refused to return their land in order to draw the attention of central officials and the ruling Communist Party to the issue of land grabs around the country.
No plans to leave
A third group of farmers from Dak Nong province in central Vietnam said compensation given for their land was inadequate.
For every 10 hectares of land taken away, only one hectare was given as substitute, they said.
The local authorities acted in collusion with local developers Hoang Thien and Bao Chau when they destroyed their homes and burned their crops without warning in April last year, they charged.
A 900 hectare (2,200 acre) rubber plantation project by the Truong Xuan Green Garden Co. was also established in 2009, and farmers in Dak Nong said nearly 100 hectares (250 acres) of their land was taken as part of the concession.
A Dak Nong farmer surnamed Thao told RFA on Saturday from Hanoi that protesters from her group vowed to stay in the capital until they were guaranteed a return of their land.
"The protesters here say if the officials want people to go back [to their homes] they have to return land to the farmers so they can earn their living. However, the police have threatened that if the protesters don’t return, they will be arrested,” she said.
Dak Nong farmers are also demanding that the authorities release those who have been sent to prison for protesting the land grab, Thao said.
The protests follow a call from Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung earlier this month to revamp the country’s land management policies and a vow to punish corrupt local officials for their role in a high-profile land eviction case in Hai Phong city.
Farmer Doan Van Vuon is in jail for attacking security forces who came to repossess his farmland in the northern port city on Jan. 5, a case widely reported in the country's media, which is tightly controlled by the ruling Communist Party.
But Prime Minister Dung, who has taken a personal interest in the case, called the repossession and forced eviction “illegal,” asking officials to expedite Vuon's trial and reduce the charges against him.
Dung also warned officials to ensure that evictions and land seizures are carried out "in strict accordance with the law."
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.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese service. Translated by Viet Ha and Minh-Ha Le. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.