Hanoi land dispute: Mayor urges disgruntled farmers to release hostages and remove blockades

By VnExpress   April 20, 2017 | 05:45 pm GMT+7

Villagers have boycotted a meeting with Hanoi Mayor Nguyen Duc Chung to discuss the hostage situation in My Duc District.

Villagers from a rural district in Hanoi had refused to show up to a meeting with the city's mayor on Thursday to discuss the hostage situation over a land dispute in Dong Tam Commune, My Duc District.

“I’ve invited the villagers today but they didn’t show up. The invite remains open,” Mayor Nguyen Chung said. The next meeting could be tomorrow or the day after.

It was the mayor’s first visit to My Duc since 38 government officials and police were taken hostage by villagers on Sunday.

Hanoi will investigate the land dispute in Dong Tam, Chung said. He asked villagers to submit relevant documents to help with the inspection, which is expected to take 45 days.

“I urge you to remove the blockades and release the hostages quickly,” Chung said.

“Over the past four years, the villagers have brought up the issue multiple times with local authorities and it hasn’t been properly resolved,” said Chung. “I promise it will be done properly this time.”

Chung also assured the villagers that police will not launch an attack.

A representative from the Government Inspectorate also said an investigation will be launched over the disputed land, where military-owned telecoms giant Viettel is building an airport. Hanoi has ordered Viettel and villagers to halt all work on the land pending the investigation.

Only My Duc District authorities were present at the meeting, even though the city had invited 100 villagers to resolve the ongoing dispute over 59 hectares of land, which authorities claim belong to the military.

Village elder Bui Viet Hieu, 75, told VnExpress that the villagers are ready to cooperate and provide the documents when the inspectors come. He hopes this time the capital will do it properly to arrive at a fairer solution.

Another villager, Nguyen Dinh Tuyen, 47, said on behalf of the village assured that "nothing will happen in the commune when the city leader [mayor] comes."

Hieu said the villagers had wanted Chung to come straight to the village. Chung, however, was awaiting the villagers at My Duc Districts's People's Committee building. 

Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry has said Hanoi is taking lawful measures to rescue police and government officials, suggesting that the city will not resort to violence.

“Hanoi authorities are dealing with the situation in accordance with the law, ensuring the legal interests of all parties involved,” said ministry spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang. 

The villagers initially took 38 police officers and government officials hostage, but released 15 of them on Monday night, while three others have managed to escape.

They said the hostages were being treated well, with three meals and clean clothes every day.

The villagers said they are not fighting the government, but want officials to release all the arrested villagers and sit down to solve the land dispute.

According to Hanoi authorities, the land dispute in Dong Tam has been lingering for years, and became heated in February this year.

Vietnam does not technically allow private land ownership but grants land-use rights, which confer the same rights as freehold status.

Land 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.