Armed Police Attack Residents Blocking Entry to Vietnam Waste Plant

vietnam-quangngai2-090418.jpg Residents of Quang Ngai province's Pho Thanh commune gather on a highway to protest local pollution, in an undated photo.
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Armed police in south-central Vietnam’s coastal Quang Ngai province attacked a crowd of people blocking garbage trucks from entering a long-disputed waste-processing plant over the weekend, arresting some 20 participants, a local source said Monday.

Citizen video emerged on Facebook over the weekend that claimed to show hundreds of officers armed with shields, batons, and police dogs on March 13 descending on the roadblock outside the plant in La Van village, in Duc Co district’s Pho Thanh commune, which had been in place since 2018.

The footage appeared to show several officers singling out protesters and beating them before taking them away for detention.

On Monday, local residents confirmed the incident in interviews with RFA’s Vietnamese Service.

“On March 8, police forces came to La Van village,” one source said, speaking on condition of anonymity due to fear of reprisal by local authorities.

“We told them the landfill was under dispute, meaning no garbage trucks were supposed to enter, but the trucks had still come in droves. In the past, we [villagers] were just observing without taking action, but things took a different turn on March 13.”

Of the 20 or so people who were arrested, “some were released” soon after, sources said, but it remained unclear on Monday exactly how many remained in detention.

An official at the Duc Pho District People’s Committee told RFA Monday that he was unaware of the incident and refused to answer further questions by phone.

Long running dispute

After going into operation in 2018, the solid waste treatment plant in Pho Thanh commune—located around 500 meters (one-third of a mile) from a residential area—dumped toxic waste in local fields, causing severe pollution.

Residents held protests in July 2018 that led to the plant’s closure, but in September that year, they formed a roadblock to prevent trucks from entering after learning that the plant had reopened several days later.

The roadblock in September 2018 touched off clashes between residents and police that led to more than 30 people being detained, and when a crowd of hundreds gathered outside of government offices to demand their release, authorities beat them, leaving at least one person hospitalized.

In September last year, Quang Ngai Party Chief Le Viet Chu held a dialogue with residents and acknowledged “wrongdoing” by local officials in connection with the plant. However, residents demanded that the plant end operations and called on authorities to remove 22,500 cubic meters of waste held at the site in 2020 under observation.

Plan to proceed

On Monday, according to state media, Quang Ngai authorities approved a plan by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment to process the waste at the plant within 20 months in “accordance with five approved treatment processes,” so as to prevent any environmental contamination that could occur while transferring it elsewhere.

The ministry proposed establishing an environmental monitoring station at the plant, as well as a community monitoring group comprised of local representatives and organizations, the report said, but many residents told RFA they remain skeptical of the plan.

Protests against processing plants and factories that emit pollutants in Vietnam are not uncommon and pose a challenge to the communist state’s authority.

A toxic spill by Taiwan-owned Formosa Plastics Group in central Vietnam in April 2016 polluted more than 125 miles of coastline along four provinces and prompted a slew of protests by resident, fishermen, and tourism industry workers who lost their livelihoods to the environment disaster.

Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Huynh Le. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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