Hai Phong authorities finally act in land revocation dispute

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Farmers want to sit in on meeting with Nguyen Tan Dung, fearing the Prime Minister will not be told the whole story

Just days before Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung's meeting Friday (February 10) to discuss the attempted land seizure by Hai Phong authorities that ended in shooting, the city administration is finally moving.

The local police have announced they will investigate the destruction of farmer Doan Van Quy's house on January 6, a day after the shoot-out.

Quy and his brother Doan Van Vuon had used homemade guns and bombs to repel more than 100 officers and soldiers sent by the Tien Lang District People's Committee to evict them and take back government land they had leased.

The police said they have summoned two local men who admitted to the media that officials in Tien Lang and Vinh Quang Commune - where the brothers live - had hired them to raze the house.

At a press briefing Tuesday, the chief of the city Party unit, Nguyen Van Thanh, announced the suspension of district chief Le Van Hien and his deputy Nguyen Van Khanh pending an investigation.

The role played by Tien Lang police chief Le Van Mai, the secretary of the commune Party unit, Pham Dang Hoang, and commune chairman Le Thanh Liem will also be reviewed.

Thanh admitted that Do Trung Thoai, deputy chairman of the city People's Committee, had made a mistake when he said that some neighbors had destroyed Quy's house. Thoai's claim caused ire among local people.

But all this comes more than a month after the incident, and just days prior to the PM's meeting.

Vuon, Quy, another brother, Doan Van Tinh, and his son Doan Van Ve are in custody for attempted murder.

Under the 1993 Land Law, the government leases out farm land for 20 years, with the 20-year clause applying retrospectively even to shorter leases agreed before the law took effect.

In Vuon's case, the lease should expire next year though the local administration claimed the lease was only for 14 years - and it expired in 2007 - since it had not been designated as agricultural land.

Observers say the outcome of this dispute will be crucial as a precedent for similar cases nationwide.

David Koh, a Vietnam analyst at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, warned against "more Tien Lang cases" if no reforms are made.

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"[The] Tien Lang [case] has taught ordinary people that state officials would only do the right thing if people fight back physically," Koh said.

"Consider what would have happened if Doan Van Vuon and his family had not taken the physical route. Their case would be one of many thousands of cases of appeal and denunciation."

Farmers' demands

Meanwhile, local farmers continue to call for a thorough probe and investigation of more officials.

On February 8 the Tien Lang Union of Saline Water Fishery Farming Associations petitioned the Government Office asking to participate in the PM's meeting because "it has direct bearing on every member of the union in general and particularly Doan Van Vuon."

"We will fully apprise the Prime Minister for him to get an overall view using different sources of information in order to protect our rights," the union said in a letter.

It calls for investigating the role of seven other officials at the district and commune levels, including Bui The Nghia, secretary of the commune Party unit.

Significantly, it expressed unhappiness at the suspension of district deputy chairman Khanh, an official who, it said, had opposed the district chairman Hien's efforts several times in 2010 and 2011 to revoke the land.

On February 8 many locals gathered near Vuon's lands to watch the police carry out their investigation since the outcome would have a direct bearing on others who have leased lands.

"Without transparent and quick disposal of the case, youths will lose all their trust," Cham, 60, a local farmer, told local news website VnExpress.

"Who will dare run a farm like Vuon?

"[The district] chairman Hien should be punished for his crime no matter how much he has contributed to the state."

Hoang Van Tin, who has 23 hectares of farmland of similar status to Vuon's, said the information about the revocation of Vuon's lands was just the tip of the iceberg.

"I would like to ask why the district Party secretary [Nghia] let local authorities act in that manner? Did he not know or did he just ignore it?"

Vuon would not have fought back if local authorities had followed proper procedures, he said.

An official in the city's Hong Bang District, who wished to remain unnamed, said the secretary of the Hai Phong Party unit did not have a clear answer at the February 7 press conference.

"Why was it necessary to have hundreds of people to force a family out of their land while none of them had a conviction record? Did Vuon commit the crime after being driven into a corner?"

Vu Van Hoa, another local, was frustrated and pessimistic.

"Only capable officials should remain in their positions and others should be dismissed. Those who understand nothing about law will cause similar problems [in future]. People are frustrated with the tortuous handling of the case.

"Those [officials] found to have committed violations will probably be censured.

"After a rebuke, they will return [to their job] and torment people [again]."

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