Dog thieves fight back

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What is it about the canine that is driving Vietnamese to kill each other?


Animals left behind by suspected dog thieves who were chased off by local residents in the north-central province of Nghe An. Both dog thieves and vigilantes fighting against them have become increasingly brutal and violent.

As if the fact that dog thieves were being beaten to death in the street by angry mobs wasn't bad enough, reports from the hitherto peaceful pagoda-speckled province of Soc Trang suggest that the thieves have begun to take more violent measures in kind.

Duong Van Thanh was shot down by two dog thieves in the Mekong Delta province on Sunday (September 18).

It was 5 a.m. when the 48-year-old man from Chau Thanh District prepared to drive his wife to a local market where she sells vegetables. Out of the corner of his eye, Thanh then saw two thieves snaring his dog.

He gave chase only to be shot in the chest by a self-made gun one of the thieves was carrying.

His neighbor Bui Van My said he saw Thanh lying on the roadside and called the man's wife for help. Thanh's wife, Tran Thi Cam Hong, rushed out only to hear him murmuring that he'd been shot in the chest.

Thanh was taken to the local hospital immediately but he died on the way there. District police are investigating the case.

According to Hong, many locals have lost their dogs to thieves who have even threatened to kill anyone in their way.

Increasingly brutal crimes have become more common in the escalating war between dog owners and thieves. The thieves have become more aggressive and use more deadly weapons, while residents in the north-central province of Nghe An appear to not think twice before killing a dog thief and burning his corpse in the street.

The thieves often snared the dog or shoot them with a self-made electrical pulse gun.

"˜Stay quiet or be killed'

Vuong Van Liem of Nghi Thuan Commune in Nghe An Province's Nghi Loc District lost a German Shepherd early this month as he took the animal on a morning walk.

"I thought they were just some passers-by crossing the street. All of a sudden, they snared the dog right in front of my nose," he said.

His call for help was met by a swinging sword wielded by one of the two robbers, who quickly escaped.

Liem's neighbor, Nguyen Thi Oanh faced even more daring dog robbers who broke into her garden and snatched her dog with a portable cage.

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"I thought they were some guests," she said. "But they just stole the dog and swung a sword at my nose, telling me "˜stay quiet or be killed.'"

Nghi of Nghi Trung Commune said a group of dog thieves arrived on a taxi and broke into his house to steal his dog. Nghi and other residents who gave chase failed to catch them because they threw stones and swung swords to escape. One of them gave Nghi a deep cut on his hand in the scuffle.

In Nghe An Province's Yen Thanh District, residents set up rising barriers to block streets whenever the dog-thief alarm is sounded.

Quan, a resident living nearby one of the barriers, was assigned to lower and secure the barrier whenever a dog thief is spotted. However, he refused to assume the job after a dog thief threatened to kill everyone in his family if he continued.

Like a war out there

On the other side of the front lines, impromptu vigilante groups call them angry mobs are ready to beat dog thieves to death if they catch them before police do.

In Nghe An, a growing number of dog thieves have been murdered by angry mobs of local residents. Their bodies and vehicles have been publicly burned and police claim they have no evidence.

In July, a group of private citizens began chasing Nguyen Duc Binh, 22, and Dang The Hung, 27, after they saw them attempting to steal a dog. Hung was caught and beaten unconscious with clubs.

Binh managed to hide into the home of a local resident and took her five-year-old daughter Khanh hostage.

Nearly 100 local police were mobilized to apprehend the thief and calm the mob. But officers were only able to take Binh away by putting him in a sack covered with fake blood, claiming that he'd been killed. Otherwise, the unruly mob might have done the job.

A local resident said Binh knew he would surely die if he was caught by these people and begged the mob to forgive him. Then he threatened to kill the little girl if they refused.

On August 29, two dog thieves were beaten to death in Nghe An Province's Nghi Loc District by a furious mob.

According to police, the two men snared a dog in neighboring Nghi Truong Commune. Dozens of locals chased after them on motorbikes and caught them in Nghi Thinh Commune.

The two men abandoned their motorbike and the captured dog and fled into a nearby field but the group pursued them and launched a brutal assault.

One man was killed on the spot; the other succumbed to serious injuries on his way to the hospital.

Senior lieutenant colonel Ho Ba Vo, vice chief investigator of Nghe An Police Department, blamed the escalating fights between dog owners and thieves on a lack of strict regulations against dog thieves.

"According to regulations, stealing properties valuing less than VND2 million ($96), like a dog, is subjected only to administrative measures like fines. Thus, residents have acted on their own when catching dog thieves," he said, adding that it has been difficult to investigate who actually killed the thieves among hundreds of residents.

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