Ex-district head faces charge in Vietnam's illegal land revocation

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Police in the northern city of Hai Phong have proposed that another official be held liable for the controversial illegal land revocation case which erupted in violence early last year.

Hai Phong police have asked that Le Van Hien, former chairman of Tien Lang District, be charged with "irresponsibility which caused serious consequences" for letting his subordinates carry out the revocation in early January 2012 that was later deemed illegal, according to a Tien Phong report.

Hien was suspended in February after the violent incident made headlines nationwide, but was later reinstated and transferred to the district Department of the Interior last April.

On January 5, in a highly unusual move, some 100 local police officers and soldiers of Tien Lang District stormed the house of Doan Van Vuon to force him to return the land where he and his family had been living and working for decades.

Vuon and his family resisted the forced evacuation using improvised shotguns and homemade mines, injuring six policemen and soldiers in the process.

Subsequently, Vietnam's Prime Minister determined the revocation had indeed violated the country's land laws, adding that it also had been carried out improperly in both terms of the size of the force that was used, and the decision to raze two houses belonging to Vuon's family.

District authorities allocated 21 hectares of swampland to Vuon in 1993 to develop aquaculture farms, as part of the local government's plan to reclaim the wasteland in the district; they gave him an additional 19.3 hectares in 1997.

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In Vietnam, all land is owned by the state and people are issued land use rights.

Vietnamese land laws established in 1993 stipulated that all farmland would be allocated for short term crops and fish farming nationwide for 20 years.

The 2003 Land Law allowed the allocation to be extended for farmers who were using the land for its intended agricultural purposes.

Colonel Pham Duy Dien, chief of staff and spokesperson for the Hai Phong police, said on Monday that Hien's case will be merged with the ongoing probe of his four subordinates, who all face charges of "destroying property" for their direct role in the revocation and ordering the destruction of the farmers' houses.

Of the four, Nguyen Van Khanh, a former district vice chairman, has been under arrest since late October while the three lower-ranking officials remain at large.

Khanh's family has lodged complaints to relevant Hai Phong and central government agencies, claiming it is unfair that he was arrested while higher-ranking district officials Hien and Party head Bui Huu Nghia, have been spared prosecution in the high-profile case.

Nghia claimed said he was unaware of the revocation plan and has been cleared of any wrongdoing.

As for the farmers who resisted the revocation with arms, the Hai Phong police demanded late last month that Vuon, 50, the leader of the resistance, his two brothers, and his nephew all be charged with attempted murder, a crime which carries a punishment 70-80 percent as harsh as what they would face had they killed the officers they only injured.

The four farmers have been detained since January.

Vuon and the wife of one of his brothers are to be charged with "obstructing officials' mission." The police have issued a warrant for two other men who fled after the showdown with the authorities.

The case has caused disagreement among legal experts in Vietnam. Some have suggested that there's no evidence proving that the farmers planned or intended to commit murder, and that furthermore, since that the revocation has been classified as illegal, they should not be charged with resisting an official mission,.

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