Officials pass the buck as illegal dredging pushes relic to river edge

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Illegal sand dredging has been pushing a national historic site in northern Vietnam to the edge of a local river while the authorities either ignorant or unwilling to do anything about it.

 

A Tuoi Tre newspaper report said that on the night of June 22, many boats were dredging sand from the Nhu Nguyet River along Mieu and Phan Dong Temples, two major parts of the relic in Bac Ninh Province.

 

The relic has lost 500 to 600 cubic meters of soil to the river every night and no official has been there to stop the illegal dredging.

 

In early May, a nine-year old boy drowned while visiting the Phan Dong Temple after he slipped at the temple gate and fell into the river.

 

Ngo Van Tu, caretaker of the Mieu temple, said that the boats dredged sand all night. "They fear no one," Tu said.

 

Many parts of the river banks have been eroded, making them look like cliffs underwater.

 

The Mieu and Phan Dong Temples of Tam Da Commune, Yen Phong District, are parts of the relic of the defense line of the Nhu Nguyet River, which help Vietnam emerge victorious in the battle against China's Song Dynasty in the 11th century.

 

The temples were used by general Ly Thuong Kiet to assemble three million soldiers at that time.

 

Bamboo clusters in front of the Phan Dong Temple have had their roots exposed and are less than one meter away the river now.

 

Nguyen Huu Lam, caretaker of the Phan Dong Temple, said the boats dredged directly from below the bamboo clusters on the river bank.

 

Soon after, there would be cracks in the land and chunks of it would collapse into the river, he said.

 

The erosion has cut the Guom mound, where general Ly Thuong Kiet stored his weapons, from the ground of the temples.

 

But the elderly caretakers said they are helpless and unable to chase the boats away.

 

Helpless fight

 

Local residents said they had prepared rocks or empty beer bottles and tried to throw as many as they could at the dredging boats. But after a couple days, the people on the boats found where the residents had stored the rocks and bottles and smashed all of them.

 

The boats sometimes dredged right in front of the commune People's Committee. They sprayed sand at police boats and damage their boat engines.

 

Tu said the local police officers would shrink back when the dredging boats got together.

 

The residents have written letters asking for help to district and provincial authorities but have received no response.

 

Although Yen Phong District had established a group to fight illegal sand dredging in the district in 2008, it ran out of money soon to operate patrol boats.

 

Passing the buck

 

Nguyen Dang Tuc, director of Bac Ninh Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism, said the provincial authorities "have no responsibility" as the relic has been assigned for the commune to take care of.

 

His deputy Nguyen Duy Nhat, chief manager of the relic, expressed surprise when told about the dredging situation, saying  he has never received any letter of complaint from the residents.

 

Nhat also said that it was hard for the department to keep an eye on all relics in the province.

 

He said dredging sand is the job of the Natural Resources and Environment Department.

 

"The Natural Resources and Environment office of Yen Phong District has formed a team with police officers and they couldn't do anything. So we cultural guys can do what?" Nhat asked.

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