Vietnam village residents want to revoke heritage status again

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Duong Lam villagers gather together to discuss a second petition asking for the removal of  "Ancient Village" status for their hometown

The people of Hanoi's Duong Lam village have petitioned again late last month to revoke their home's "Ancient Village" status, telling authorities that the label, and the regulations that go with it, have been a constant inconvenience.

"We are keen on returning the status because we are not happy at all to live in an "˜ancient village'," said Duong Lam resident Ha Thi Khanh.

She has been prevented from adding a floor to her house because all houses in the village must retain their traditional one-story structure complete with wooden pillars and tiled roofs.

Any changes to that are prohibited by the "Ancient Village" designation, which aims to preserve historical locales in Vietnam.

Being farmers, the villagers need space to dry their rice and corn and raise poultry, which requires them to build more rooms, floors, or structures, but the ancient village status prevents this.

If villagers want to make additions to their house, even a toilet, local authorities pay a visit, ask lots of nosy questions, and eventually prohibit the addition, Khanh said.

Other problems include a constant flow of tourists hogging the streets, making passage difficult for locals, she said.

People from the village who live elsewhere have to buy a tourist ticket to enter or need to have a local resident pick them up at the gate.

"Nothing has been done after the first petition, and whenever a meeting is held, officials discuss things among themselves and we, the residents, are not invited," Khanh said.

"So now we have to make a second petition ... so that we can have freedom."

Phan Van Doi, another local, said the "Ancient Village" label has completely changed life in the village.

The village's name is actually Mong Phu, and in 2006 it and five other ancient villages decided to jointly adopt the name Duong Lam.

Since then, people who visit Mong Phu call it Duong Lam, which makes many people sad, he said.

"It is four months since we sent the first petition to take back the status.

"Do we have to wait our whole life?"

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A new ancient village?

Son Tay Town authorities and the Duong Lam Ancient Village Management Board -- a local government body not made up of Duong lam residents -- drafted a plan in August to rebuild the village, said Pham Hung Son, head of the board.

He said the plan, which is currently waiting for approval from the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, took into account input from local residents.

"We obtained the opinions of village residents for the plan," he said.

The plan categorizes the village's houses into four types. Types 1 and 2 are ancient houses and need to be preserved. Type 3 houses have two or three stories and need to have their height reduced to match the other ancient houses around them. If that causes a shortage of space for residents, land will be provided elsewhere to build another house or to build structures to raise livestock or to dry crops.

Type 4 houses are normal ones with a single story that can be refurbished to a maximum height of 7.5 meters.

In the plan, Son Tay Town authorities asked the Ministry to subsidize 100 percent of the cost of preserving type 1 houses and renovating type 3 houses, and 30-50 percent of the cost of renovating type 4 houses.

"According to higher authorities, many problems related to the Heritage Law and Land Law have arisen around the plan. We are now trying to have it passed soon," said Son.

If the plan is approved, the board  and Son Tay authorities will have to build model houses for the village so that villagers will know how they must build their houses.

The complete procedure will have to go through all those steps.

Not only that, the area provided for those who need more space but cannot enlarge their houses is not looked upon favorably by the residents.

They complained that the new land will far from their home, not to mention that they will have to pay an annual fee to use that land, probably  tens of millions of dong per year, a fee which is not small for poor farmers. 

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