Police officers batter 2 reporters during land eviction

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Just a few months ago analysts had hailed the media for fighting corruption following an eviction attempt in Hai Phong


A still from the video clip shows a group of police officers and security guards repeatedly beating and kicking two helmeted men later identified as Nguyen Ngoc Nam and Han Phi Long, reporters for the Voice of Vietnam radio while evicting 166 farmers from their lands in Hung Yen Province on April 24

Voice of Vietnam (VOV) radio has asked the police in Hung Yen Province to investigate an assault on two of its reporters by cops and security guards who were evicting farmers from their land to make way for a massive private housing project.

A video clip posted on YouTube on April 24 shows the men repeatedly kicking and beating two helmeted men, who did not resist.

Nguyen Ngoc Nam, 42, the chief of VOV's daily news department, and Han Phi Long, 33, a reporter in the same department, said they are the two men in the clip, which lasts more than a minute.

Nam said that on the morning of April 24, he and Long were assigned to go to the northern province of Hung Yen near Hanoi to report on the eviction of 166 families in Xuan Quan Commune, Van Giang District.

When Long stood near a field to watch, more than a dozen officers and guards ran up and began to kick and hit him with batons and sticks. He reportedly had blood all over his swollen face, torn lips, and pain in the chest.

Nam rushed to the scene, screaming repeatedly: "Stop, we're journalists!"

But the men did not stop and instead twisted his arms and continued the assault.

Long later told Nong Thon Ngay Nay newspaper that he and Nam were lucky to have had helmets since the police hit them in the head with batons.

Nam said he was handcuffed and taken to the Van Giang District prosecutor's office where he had his mobile phone, press card, and other papers confiscated. Long went to a local police station to report the assault.

Voice of Vietnam has asked the police for an explanation but had not received a reply as of press time.

According to online newspaper VnExpress, the eviction, which lasted from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m., was ordered by the provincial government. Authorities dispatched 1,000 police officers and militiamen to evict the families from 5.8 hectares (14 acres) of land.

The lands were part of a larger area allocated for developing a satellite city called Ecopark.

Viet Hung Urban Development and Investment Joint Stock Company, a private company, was awarded the contract to build Ecopark in 2004.

Ecopark is supposed to be the largest urban project in northern Vietnam and will cost an estimated US$6 billion.

In all, more than 4,000 farmers will lose their land.

For eight years, Hung Yen authorities have been unable to take over the land because they have not reached an agreement with the owners over compensation.

The farmers have protested periodically in Hanoi, demanding higher compensation or cancellation of the project, AP reported.

A provincial news website reported that they put up two tents near the site a day before the eviction, and around 300 of them gathered there with hoes, shovels, knives, sickles, sticks, and stones "to resist the eviction."

In denial

On May 9 Bui Huy Thanh, a spokesman for the Hung Yen People's Committee, told Vietweek that authorities are still investigating the alleged assault.

The video clip is too blurry, so they have been unable to identify either the perpetrators of the assault or the victims.

A day earlier police official Nguyen Xuan Hieu had declined to comment when VnExpress asked about the alleged crime, saying he had not watched the clip.

Meanwhile, Hai Phong City authorities are looking to lease shrimp farms to Doan Van Vuon, the farmer involved in a sensational land eviction attempt that turned violent on January 5.

PM Dung later ordered an investigation into the incident in which local authorities dispatched 100 police officers and soldiers to force Vuon's family to return a 50-hectare plot allotted to him.

Dung hailed the role of the media in exposing the wrongdoings of local authorities in Hai Phong and urged it to keep up the good work in "orienting the public."

Analysts are now debating how important a robust press is to anti-corruption efforts and whether the Vietnamese press has what it takes to contribute.

David Brown, a retired American diplomat, wrote in a recent Asia Times piece: "The public debate over the [Hai Phong] shootout that played out in Vietnam's daily papers has"¦ reinvigorated the country's whistle-blowing reporters."

But a February study released by the Vietnamese NGO Center for Research on Development Communication found that around 88 percent of 327 journalists surveyed said they were often hindered from performing their duties.

The preliminary findings of a foreign study said last November that the corruption-related coverage in seven newspapers over a five-year period has fallen. Most stories were about happenings on the provincial level, even though the papers were either national papers or targeting a national audience, it tentatively said.

EVICTED FARMERS STRUGGLE TO MAKE ENDS MEET

Residents evicted from their farmland in Van Giang District in the northern province of Hung Yen are struggling to make ends meet and find new jobs after losing their land, according Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper.

On Tuesday afternoon, tens of farmers gathered in Xuan Quan Commune at a makeshift house built by Le Thach Ban, a 74-year-old farmer, after spending the whole morning planting banana trees on the land plots they had been evicted from.

"We can just grow short-term species like banana and beans, otherwise we will have no money to buy food," one farmer said.

Ban told Tuoi Tre the farmers did not oppose the Ecopark project or government policies, but they are demanding that local authorities follow the Government Inspectorate's guidelines on compensation for affected residents.

He said the compensation price set by local authorities was unreasonably low.

Finding a new job after losing their farmland is also a big concern for the residents. According to Ban, the investor, Viet Hung Urban Development and Investment Joint Stock Company (Vihajico), promised to recruit evicted farmers for new jobs at the Ecopark project, but no one has been hired yet.

Vihajico also promised to provide vocational training for the farmers, but that too has just been lip service so far, he said.

Vihajico said it would accept around 3,000 people for vocational training after the farmers handed over 100 percent of land area needed for the Ecopark project.

After the Ecopark project was approved eight years ago, the Hung Yen Province People's Committee, the local government, revealed a plan to build a ceramic handcraft village in Xuan Quan Commune and a rattan handicraft village in Van Giang Town to provide new jobs for farmers evicted from farmland. However, the plan has not been implemented.

Vihajico has so far just provided a training course for farmers to become security guards.

Nguyen Cong Hong, Vihajico's deputy general director, said the company will deliver on its commitments to the farmers, but added that it was hard to recruit the farmers for the project because they complained the salary was too low.

"They were hired to do other jobs outside the project with higher salary, so they don't want to work here," he said.

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