Hanoi's disgruntled villagers to fight gov't decision over high-profile land dispute

By Vo Hai   July 25, 2017 | 10:14 pm PT
Hanoi's disgruntled villagers to fight gov't decision over high-profile land dispute
A street is blocked in Dong Tam, on the outskirts of Hanoi, during an April 20 protest over land expropriation. Photo by Reuters
Months after the tensions peaked with a hostage crisis, the city and the people still cannot reach an agreement.

Representatives from a commune in Hanoi have rejected the findings from the latest investigation into a long-running land dispute which reached its climax in April when dozens of police officers were taken hostage.

The residents said they plan to file a petition against the decision which claimed that all the land they had spent years fighting for belonged to the military.

On Tuesday, Hanoi inspectors said the city was within its rights to take back military land claimed by local farmers, backing up the findings of a previous inspection.

The contention lies in the amount of land inspectors say belongs to the military.

Both investigations ruled that a military airport in the area covers 236.7 hectares (578 acres), including 64 hectares in Dong Tam Commune, My Duc District.

But Le Dinh Kinh, a respected elder from Dong Tam, told VnExpress on the same day that the military only owns around 47 hectares of land in the commune. “The rest belongs to the people,” he said.

Kinh, 82, said a group of villagers plan to file a petition against the decision to the Government Inspectorate, the country’s highest inspection body.

He said they had already filed an appeal to the city's inspectors last week after the first inspection results were announced, and asked for a written report from the inspectors. Both requests were denied.

Kinh was one of four people arrested in Dong Tam on April 15 following public unrest over the dispute. Their arrests led locals to take 38 government officials and police officers hostage, drawing media attention from across the world.

It took a week to resolve the dramatic standoff, and Hanoi Mayor Nguyen Duc Chung was forced to step in and reassure the villagers that the problem would be solved fairly.

Chung also promised that no residents would face prosecution over the dispute. Last month police launched a criminal investigation into what they call the “illegal” detention of policemen and officials.

Prosecutors in My Duc District have also ratified charges against 14 officials for wrongfully assigning military land to several families in the district between 2002 and 2013 “for benefits”.

Local authorities said the land dispute in the area had lingered on for years.

According to the initial investigation, military departments had signed contracts with Dong Tam Commune to rent land to local residents for farming purposes.

Those contracts expired in 2012, but some families were still working on the land, it said.

Hanoi inspectors earlier this month ordered local officials to force citizens to return the land. They also asked Hanoi police to work with the defense ministry to punish officials for wrongful management and use of the land.

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 concerns and protests in the country. In 2012, they accounted for 70 percent of all complaints lodged against the government, according to a parliamentary report.

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