District head who ordered controversial land revocation suspended

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The head of the district administration involved in the controversial revocation of land where the military was deployed and a farmer's house razed to the ground in northern Vietnam was suspended Tuesday from his position.

Le Van Hien, chairman of Tien Lang District People's Committee in Hai Phong City, had directly ordered the controversial revocation on January 5, a city official said.

The revocation has been deemed illegal by many lawyers.

Hien's subordinate, vice chairman of the Tien Lang People's Committee, Nguyen Van Khanh, was also suspended the same day.

Informing the media of the suspensions, Nguyen Van Thanh, Secretary of the Hai Phong Communist Party Committee, said, Tien Lang District authorities "did not fully follow land revocation regulations, which caused the land's users to protest."

Agricultural engineer Doan Van Vuon and other farmers in his family had used handmade guns and mines to fight more than 100 police officers and soldiers who went to force them to hand over the land.

Six police officers were hospitalized, including the district police chief Le Van Mai, who was rebuked Tuesday along with the district Party leader.

During the Tuesday meeting, Thanh also admitted the city government's responsibility for letting the problem happen.

He assigned Hai Phong police to investigate the destruction of Vuon's house after the revocation and propose charges. The district government has denied its involvement in the destruction and blamed it on "some outraged neighbors."

The revocation has been criticized by many lawyers as violating Vietnam's Land Law.

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The law allows farmers to have the use rights over allocated land for 20 years, but the district authorities only signed with Vuon a 14-year-term agreement in 1997. Vuon was forced to hand over more than 19 hectares he was given that year.

He had been allocated around 20 hectares in 1993 to develop aquaculture farms, as part of the local government's plan to reclaim swampland in the district.

An outpouring of public criticism with several prominent personalities including a former President of the country weighing in against the revocation prompted Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung to order the Hai Phong administration to look into the matter and file a report.

Hai Phong had organized two press briefings, one right after the revocation on January 5, and another on January 12, after Vuon and three other men in the protest were arrested pending charges of attempted murder. But neither of the  briefings were attended by a city leader and no relevant answers were given.

More developments in the case are expected next week after the PM chairs a meeting on the dramatic revocation that has raised questions about the allocation of land to farmers and land-grabbing by political elites for urban projects that leave farmers in the lurch.

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