Truong Thi Sinh, 49, shows a bruise she sustained during a clash with police on April 10. Photo: Nguyen Dung
Farmers in northern Vietnam claim they attacked police and government officials last week because the officers insisted on seizing land that residents had worked hard to clear decades ago.
“It used to be uninhabited sand dunes covered in shrubs,” said Dao Viet Duc, 50, of Bac Son Commune in the north-central province of Ha Tinh.
On Thursday (April 10), an angry mob of hundreds of people protesting a cemetery project in Ha Tinh’s Thach Ha District attacked and injured nine police officers and destroyed several officials’ property.
Earlier that day, six police officers arrived at the home of Truong Van Truong, 30, in Bac Son Commune, Thach Ha District, to arrest him on suspicion that he had thrown stones at a number of local officials’ homes in recent months in protest of the cemetery project.
The arrest inspired a group of neighbors to rush to the site; four police officers were assaulted in the ensuing chaos.
More than 100 officers were mobilized to the site and five of them were injured in their attempts to rescue their fellow officers.
Later that day, a mob of angry locals marched to the headquarters of the Bac Son People’s Committee, the local government, and burned 11 motorbikes that local officials had parked there.
After that, they surrounded the houses of four local officials before dispersing early Friday morning.
Duc, a communal resident, said that after 1965, people were encouraged to reclaim wild land and hundreds of households in Ha Tinh's Thach Dong Commune resettled in Bac Son.
“The residents reclaimed the new land with blood, sweat and tears,” he said.
“Now the government wants to revoke nearly 40 hectares (99 acres) to build the Vinh Hang Cemetery. Where will our children live?” he said.
Truong Thi Sinh, 49, said local people began to worry about having land to cultivate and build homes on as the commune’s population increased over the years.
Two projects, the Xuan Ha Jail and a pig farm, have already “swallowed” dozens of hectares of land, she said.
People became even more agitated at the prospect of having to live alongside thousands of graves.
“We would have supported if it were a development project that created jobs. But this is a cemetery to bury thousands of people in the future and we did not agree,” Sinh said.
The residents had repeatedly protested the project over the past months but the provincial authorities ignored them, many residents said.
In Vietnam, all land is owned by the state, but because land-usage rights are not always clear or protected, land disputes have become an increasingly contentious issue in the country.
At least 70 percent of all complaints lodged with authorities nationwide concern land.
On Sunday, Ha Tinh Police arrested four residents accused of participating in the mob attack on police and local officials, which has prompted the closure of a governmental office for days.
Several local top officials have been too afraid to return to their homes.
The four arrestees include Le Van Tinh, 24, Nguyen Thi Thuan, 24, Duong Huu Tinh, 39, and Tran Hau Thuan, 42, Nguoi Lao Dong newspaper reported.
“The four people face charges of illegal detention and causing public nuisance,” Colonel Tran Cong Truong, the provincial police chief told Thanh Nien on Sunday.
He said police are investigating to see if others were involved in the incident.
Frightened, but no change
Thanh Ha District police chief Nguyen Hoai Viet said the mob had seized seven cell phones and a gun belonging to the police.
However, he was unclear if the gun had been returned.
Tuoi Tre quoted local resident Nguyen Van Thai as saying that he was keeping the gun and wanted to return it to the police.
“I saw a policeman firing three warning shots before the residents took it and gave it to Mrs. Long. The she asked me to keep it. I want to return it,” he said.
The Bac Son Commune People’s Committee remained closed as of April 13. The agency chairman Tran Ba Hoanh said the commune's key officials were too scare to leave their homes.
“At night, the officials and their relatives have to avoid sleeping at home for fear of another attack,” he said.
Nguyen Khac Son, the communal police chief, said he was asking the higher authorities to allow him to quit his job due to pressure from work and fear of further attacks.
However, provincial authorities plan to proceed with the cemetery project.
Ho Duy Thanh, director of Ha Tinh Land Fund Development Center, said relevant authorities had made careful studies before choosing the location of the cemetery project.
“With the meaning and importance of the project in the future, we will strictly follow the provincial authorities despite how hard it could be, and will facilitate relevant procedures to successfully build the Vinh Hang Cemetery,” he said.
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