Hanoi villagers seek to return heritage title for freedom to fix homes

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A cart selling hats as souvenirs stands close to a signboard indicating the guide center for visitors to Duong Lam, Hanoi. Photo courtesy of Tuoi Tre

Residents of a Hanoi commune have signed a petition to return a national heritage title as an ancient village, saying it has done them no good over the past eight years, and has actually been a nuisance, forcing them to live in houses that are in bad condition.

The petition was signed by 78 people from nearly 60 families in Duong Lam Commune and sent to Son Tay Town and Hanoi administrations, as well as the Department of Cultural Heritages at the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism which granted the title in 2005, Tuoi Tre reported Wednesday.

It was sent soon after Son Tay Town authorities issued an order to tighten control over "illegal" constructions in the village, which made the residents more angry with the title that prevents them from upgrading their homes.

"We do not have the right to build, repair or extend houses on land that belongs to our family," said the April 30 petition.

"For nearly ten years, local officials have kept stalking our houses day and night, and every time they see a house buying bricks or cement, they would send warnings about cutting off water and power supply, and destroying the construction as it does not follow the design for ancient village houses, which must be built with wood and old tiles, which are as expensive as gold," it said.

The petition's signatories said they "were very happy" when they heard on the radio that their commune had won the country's first ancient village title.

"We thought we would be looked after by our country. We were promised benefits from waves of tourists, about better life.

But the truth is only eight families with ancient houses of wood and tile roofs in the beginning received investments while the rest of around 400 got nothing, they said.

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"We have been unhappy for nearly ten years now and we cannot bear that any longer.

"We want to return the title to have back peace and freedom."

Local officials admitted that some residents have threatened they would do "anything it takes" if their house constructions are pulled down again.

Phan Van Hoa, vice chairman of Duong Lam Commune, told Tuoi Tre he was among the angry residents, as the title was given the village with no other support from the government. The government did not even provide a development plan for the commune after bestowing the title, he said.

"There is no way out of this unhappiness."

Hoa said he has kept raising the problem at meetings with higher authorities, but he kept receiving the order to stick to the job of punishing what are called illegal constructions.

"They said there are no solutions," Hoa said.

He said residents were "miserable" when they were not allowed to modify their houses the way they liked.

The commune officials had suggested a two-story house that still looks ancient from the outside with similar tiled roofs, but this was rejected.

Hoa said he would accept punishment from above but he will not order any more destruction of local house work.

"This is their land, and you intervene for tourism exploitation, so you should either pay them back or leave them alone."

Hoa said the village has received hundreds of thousands of visitors and the capital has earned a lot of money from selling tickets into the village, but the villagers themselves have "received almost no benefits."

Giang Manh Hoang, chairman of the commune, said the village generated at least VND6 billion (US$287,000) a year from selling tickets to visitors.

The villagers were given VND10 million ($478) the first year, VND20 million the second year and VND30 million for each of the following years, and they had to spend that on promotions including organizing festivals.

Hoang said they have been told that the rest of the revenue is used as payment for people selling the tickets, who are actually Son Tay Town officials.

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