Protesters Besiege Capital Building

Vietnamese villagers demand the return of their farmland and the punishment of corrupt officials.

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.

Nearly 1,000 villagers set up camp at a municipal building in Vietnam’s capital Tuesday, demanding that the government return land they say was illegally confiscated and sold to a neighboring village.

The protest was the third in four months by the residents of Lien Hiep, in Hanoi’s Phu Tho district, who vowed to remain on the premises of the Village People’s Committee for “weeks or months” until their land was returned and the officials responsible for its sale punished for corruption.

“More than one year ago, we lodged a petition after finding out that all of our village officials were corrupt and had received funds from a development site that was created by illegally selling our land to another village," one villager told RFA, as protesters set up stoves to cook rice porridge in the building’s courtyard.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the villager said that no one from the government had ever addressed the petition, angering the villagers.

In late April, the villagers held their first rally at the Village People’s Committee building and held a second one in June.

It was only after the second protest that Hanoi city officials issued a decree ordering district and village authorities to honor the petition.

But the Lien Hiep villagers said that the lower level authorities not only ignored the order, they also expressed their support for the corrupt officials who had sold their land.

Residents said the surreptitious sale of village land by officials had been occurring since 1998.

“The funds were never entered into the village records,” the villager said.

“Land mismanagement is rampant. The rice land distributed to local farmers has been reduced further and further without any compensation.”

All land in Vietnam belongs to the state, with people having only 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 called in February 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.