More than 20 people have been arrested following a mass protest over a land grab in Vietnam that was violently suppressed by security forces firing warning gunshots and tear gas, witnesses said Wednesday.
"Generally, people are still panic-stricken after the authorities' action of coercion," a villager told RFA.
On Tuesday, in one of the biggest land confrontations in Vietnam, about 2,000 villagers hurled rocks and Molotov cocktails at a larger group of armed security forces moving to seize their land on the outskirts of the capital Hanoi.
The villager, speaking on condition of anonymity, also said that 20 people had been arrested, including two of his family members, over the protest.
He spoke from Phung Cong village, one of three villages in the district of Van Giang where 70 hectares (173 acres) of land was forcibly occupied by the authorities for a satellite city development project.
Backed by bulldozers, cranes, and excavators, several thousand police, military personnel, and unidentified men not in uniform moved in to take over the land.
Van Giang is a rural district of Hung Yen province in the Red River Delta region of Vietnam.
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.
Vietnam's state media quoted a top official of the Hung Yen People's Committee as saying that 20 people who had committed "extremist actions" had been arrested by police.
Another source said that there were 26 people in custody, most of them Phung Cong villagers. The number could not be confirmed.
Video clips obtained by RFA from citizen journalists showed security forces, including those not in uniform, assaulting villagers with clubs.
VnExpress, an online Vietnamese newspaper, quoted the official as saying that police numbering 500 used so-called "smoke grenades" to disperse the crowd.
Video clips showed a much larger police force.
Le Hien Duc, a longtime voluntary advocate for victims of injustice, told RFA about 2,000 security forces were involved in the land seizure.
"They fired lots of tear gas," a Van Giang villager told RFA. "They shot tear gas continuously at the villagers who squatted and refused to budge in order to keep their land."
"The whole area was dark with tear gas," the villager said.
A blogger wrote that police ran out of tear gas or smoke grenades and had to wait for reinforcements.
Local authorities granted developer Viet Hung Co. Ltd. some 500 hectares (1,235 acres) of their land without conducting fair negotiations with their representatives, villagers said.
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.
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 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 in 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."
Reported by RFA's Vietnamese service. Translated by Viet Long. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.