Villagers hold officials captive in protest against authorities in Vietnam

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 Boi River in the northern province of Hoa Binh where a company is accused of illegally mining gold on October 2-7 without local authorities' interference / PHOTO: HOANG THANG

Authorities in the northern province of Hoa Binh are investigating a case in which about 100 villagers abducted six officials in a protest against local authorities earlier this week.

Initial information is that locals from Boi Cau Village detained five environmental police officers and one environment official as the officials tried to talk them out of a demonstration against local authorities' handling of a mining case on Tuesday.

Bui Viet Hung, vice chairman of Kim Boi Commune, told Thanh Nien that the officials were tied up and kept captive for about 15 minutes, and none of them were beaten.

The people's anger had been building for a long time on suspicion of corruption by local officials, Hung said.

In August, the village's Party unit allowed sand and rocks to be mined in order to pay for welfare in the locality, the official said.

A local company was contracted to do the mining for VND90 million (US$4,200).

However, while local authorities were yet to issue any official announcement on the mining project, the company launched its work on October 2, "upsetting" local people, Hung said.

Bui Viet Thang, a Boi Cau villager, told Thanh Nien that the company was actually mining gold.

He said they found lots of equipment specific for gold mining and complained to village and commune authorities several times, but the latter did not take any action.

On October 7, villagers rushed to the mining site and confiscated three bulldozers and one truck from people who were working there, according to a report from the Kim Boi District People's Committee.

When commune and village leaders came to convince them to stop, the villagers took Bui Van Dung, head of the village, into captivity. But, Dung later released himself from the ropes and fled.
Thanh Nien reporters found that after the encounter at the mining site, commune leaders asked village authorities to leave Boi Cau for the sake of their safety.

Later that day, about 100 people moved the confiscated equipment to Boi Cau stadium and gathered at a common house where they drummed every ten minutes.

The next day, a group of eight officials came in an effort to talk with the villagers, but the villages once again took the officials captive.

Thang told Thanh Nien that villagers had previously caught groups illegally mining the river on many occasions.

The rampant mining has left numerous deep holes in the riverbed and in 2011 alone three people drowned there, he said, adding that in the past, people from Boi Cau had always been able wade across the river in order to care for their corn crops on the other side. Now it is dangerous to do so, he said.

According to the Kim Boi District People's Committee's report, besides the mining case, Boi Cau people were also upset about the way local authorities have handled some other matters.

At a meeting on October 9, villagers demanded authorities clarify the mining project as well as a project to  build war martyr statues that was announced in 2010. They said authorities then collected 20 kilograms of rice from each person in the area to fund the project, but no statue has been built so far, and people have received no explanation.

Hung said in response to people's demands, the commune and village authorities made apologies.

Bui Duc Son, director of Hoa Binh's police department, told Thanh Nien that related agencies are clarifying violations by local officials, and that violators will be either fined or face criminal charges.

In the meantime, police will seek charges of "illegally arresting others" and "acting against people on public duty" against involved villagers, he said.

Kim Boi District People's Committee said at least 20 people took part in "extreme" acts and "stimulated" the crowd.

Five of them are the younger brothers and sisters of Kim Boi Commune's police chief, while the officer's brother-in-law was among the miners. Thus, there is a chance that the encounter was also caused by conflicts among the police officer's family members over economic profits, the committee said.

The identity of the police chief, however, was not revealed.

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