Sand thieves steal livelihoods

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Residents along the Dong Nai River have lost land worth hundreds of billions of dong due to illegal sand dredging by companies who resell the stolen materials for a pretty profit.

“Just a few nights after boats stole sand from the river, more than 1,000 square meters of my rice field fell into the water,” said Duong Thi Tuyet Mai, a resident in Long Tan Commune, Nhon Trach District, Dong Nai.

Her land was 5,281 square meters in the first place, according to the land title. But it was only around 4,000 square meters when Dong Nai authorities measured local plots recently, Mai said.

A recent survey by the Long Tan Commune People’s Committee showed that 49 local families have lost 255,867 square meters to sand thievery.

Nguyen Thien Tuan lost 32,000 square meters while Dang Thi Ha 17,454 square meters and Tran Thi Dinh nearly 13,000 square meters.

Land in the area is now priced at around VND1 million (US$54) a square meter on average.

Mai’s neighbor Phan Phuoc Thanh said he had been informed by authorities that 3,000 square meters of his land was gone. He bought the plot in 2008 when it measured 10,000 square meters.

“We’ve seen the dredging and we contacted the authorities several times, but things have continued unchanged,” he said.

The erosion area is located within 330 hectares planned for an eco-tourism zone. The investor has agreed to pay residents for the amount of land on their registrations when it doles out land compensation later, commune authorities said.

In Tam An Commune of Long Thanh District, around 220,000 square meters of land has also been destroyed the same way over the last few years.

Tran Van Truong from Ho Chi Minh City bought a plot in the commune only to find out later when he visited the site that most of the land he had bought was already under the river.

Cao Van Doan, chairman of the commune People’s Committee, said sand under the river was good for construction and had thus lured many illegal sand dealers.

The river curls around the commune and the loss of sand easily causes erosion, Doan said.

A riverside road four kilometers long in Binh Loi Commune, Vinh Cuu District, was 10 meters from the river several years ago. Now parts have fallen into the water and drivers have to steer carefully, or they will fall in as well.

Losing fight

Nguyen Van Hung, chairman of Long Tan Commune People’s Committee, said he lacked personnel and mechanisms to stop the sand stealers.

“We usually only arrived at the scene of such crimes after the thieves have left,” Hung said.

Long Tan commune once used residents’ boats to patrol local waters. But the illegal dredgers threatened residents and they dared not rent out their boats anymore, Hung said.

The commune then borrowed boats from district authorities but dredgers used their larger boats to ram and break the official vessels, he said.

Doan of Tam An Commune and Hue, head of Binh Loi Commune, said they needed speedboats of waterway traffic police to stop the thieves.

Reported by Hoang Tuan

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