All 19 police officers and government officials held by disgruntled villagers amid a land dispute on the outskirts of Hanoi have been released, effectively ending a week-long crisis that kept the whole nation in suspense.
People in Dong Tam Commune of My Duc District set the group free, after a three-hour meeting with Hanoi Chairman Nguyen Duc Chung, an event that at one point seemed impossible.
The villagers took hostage 38 policemen and officials on Saturday last week following the detention of four residents for violating land use regulations. They had released 16 hostages by Friday while three others managed to escape.
According to the authorities, the case has lingered for years and become heated since February this year, when military-owned telecoms giant Viettel started work to build an airport in the disputed area.
Some locals have been fighting for what they believe is their agricultural land, but officials have said the land belongs to the military.
The unusual tension and confrontation prompted Chung, the mayor, to arrive at the district, around 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the city center, on Thursday, but his first request to sit down with the villagers was ignored.
The top city official was again expected to meet with villagers on Friday, but talks could not happen as planned.
Then on Saturday, the situation was de-escalated.
At the meeting in the morning, Chung promised an inspection into land use in the village as well as the recent arrests of local residents.
He also assured that villagers would not face criminal charges for the hostage crisis.
Tran Xuan Le, a 78-year-old local, said at the meeting that generations of villagers have been treating the area of 50 hectares, or 146 acres, as their farmland and that they have always paid land use fees and taxes to the government.
“Then suddenly some My Duc officials gave the land to Viettel and called it military land. If it was always military land, none of us would have had the guts to farm there,” Le said.
He said that if the land had been transferred to the military at some point, the residents should have been properly informed. He said in such a case, locals would have followed the order.
Le said the villagers took the matter into their own hands after they spent years lodging complaints to different offices, without any response.
Bui Van Ky, another villager of 63, said it was wrong to keep police officers and government officials hostage. “But it was because the government officials were wrong first.”
Chung said he will solve the matter “with fair mind and heart.”
The man in charge of guarding the hostages smiles as the tension comes to an end on Saturday. Photo by VnExpress
“We feel so relieved,” a local woman said. “We do not want this to ever happen again.”
Vietnam does not technically allow private land ownership but grants land-use rights, which confer the same rights as freehold status.
Land-related grievances remain the main source of concern and protests in the country. In 2012, they accounted for 70 percent of all complaints lodged against the government, according to a parliamentary report.