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Binh Duong struggles to tackle scourge of repairmen littering roads with sharp detritus

Pham Van Canh (L) of the southern province of Binh Duong was detained on February 13 for scattering sharp objects along National Highway 13. Police say Canh ran a tire repair shop along the roadway and distributed the hazards to attract business.

Last week police in Ben Cat District in Binh Duong Province arrested five people on suspicion of scattering sharp steel tire hazards along National Highway 13.

Three of the suspects operate three different garages along the side of the road, police said.

It wasn't the first time "nail scatterers" were arrested in Binh Duong. Last August, local police charged three other suspects for the same scam.

The problem has become something of an epidemic in Binh Duong.

Locals and commuters from all over the region complain that they've been marooned and charged exorbitant fees for tire repairs while traveling through in the province.

In some cases, drivers lose control of their motorbikes and suffer injuries.

The problem is so bad and teams of volunteers and road maintenance crews have been organized to comb the roads for hazards.

Despite the efforts, the problem persists.

Cong, a member of the youth union in Ho Chi Minh City's Thu Duc District, said that every day he and the other members collect between 1.5 and two kilograms of "nails" along the road that leads to Binh Duong's Di An District.

The hazards are usually carved from bits of scrap metal designed to poke up out of the ground and slash passing tires. Some are made out of metals that can even puncture car tires, he added.

One hundred and forty-four repair shops are currently operating along the highway, most of which are geared toward mending punctures and replacing inner tubes.

The shops generally charge between VND70,000-80,000 (US$3.58-4.10) per replacement"”nearly double the usual charge in HCMC.

In some cases victims pay up to VND250,000 ($12.81).

On a four-kilometer stretch of National Way 13, near Thoi Hoa Commune, punctures keep more than 40 repair shops in business.

Nguyen Thanh Hai, head of the Phu Hoa Ward's Voluntary Neighborhood Watch Group, said that volunteers spend lots of time and energy cracking down on "nail scatterers."

The perpetrators usually ride on motorbikes at high speeds leaving carpets of pointy objects in their wake. As a result, they're hard to track down.

Hai's group, which assists local police, spent more than one month trailing the five suspects nabbed in the latest arrest.

Le Minh Duc, secretary of Thu Duc District's Youth Union branch, said nail scatterers are using more sophisticated methods to duck local authorities.

"Now they're taking buses," he said. "They sit near the back and toss nails out the window."

According to Duc, his organization and the provincial Youth Union plan to beef up puncture patrols and push different agencies to deal with the scheme more effectively.

In the meantime, deputy Le Van Trung of the HCMC People's Council, the municipal legislature, said it shouldn't be so hard to put an end to the problem.

"The question is whether or not local agencies have paid enough attention to the problem, and to what extent it has been made a top priority," he said.

Trung criticized local authorities for failure to squash the problem. He further claimed that not enough care had been taken in addressing complaints from the public.

He urged the authorities to ask all local repair shops to register their businesses and list their service prices.

"It"˜s obvious that repair shops are connected to "˜nail scatterers'," he said.

Local authorities also need to establish hotlines so people can report illegitimate repair shops.

Trung added that fines have proven an ineffective deterrent against "nail scatterers." Stricter measures are needed, he said.

The representative promised that, if the problem persists, he will raise the matter at the next council meeting.

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