Heated Hanoi land dispute signifies 'crisis of public confidence': lawmaker

By Staff reporters   November 2, 2017 | 01:54 am PT
Heated Hanoi land dispute signifies 'crisis of public confidence': lawmaker
Hanoi villagers release police officers who they held hostage for one week as a land dispute tension escalated in April. Photo by VnExpress
The dispute escalated because residents had been ignored and treated like criminals, the National Assembly heard.

A police investigation launched into a dramatic land dispute that took place last April involving local authorities and residents in Hanoi has prompted one lawmaker to speak out, calling for authorities to handle the matter with care.

“We should look at it as a crisis of public confidence,” Duong Trung Quoc said on Thursday at the ongoing meeting of the legislative National Assembly.

“We need to build trust,” said Quoc, a historian.

He raised the point while the assembly was reviewing the major social and economic issues of the year.

The land dispute that erupted last April was one of the biggest events to occur in the country this year, and received widespread coverage in both local and international media.

According to authorities, the case has been lingering on for years and became heated in February when military-owned telecoms giant Viettel started work to build an airport in the disputed area.

Locals are continuing to fight for what they believe is their agricultural land, but officials say the land belongs to the military.

Tensions erupted in mid-April when Hanoi police detained four people from Dong Tam Village, 40km (25 miles) south of the capital, for "breaking land-use regulations".

In response, disgruntled villagers took 38 police officers and government officials hostage, starting a standoff that was only resolved a week later when Hanoi’s chairman Nguyen Duc Chung visited the village and promised to launch a thorough investigation into the dispute, saying the protesters would not be prosecuted.

But things have not turned out well for the villagers.

In mid-June, the police launched a criminal probe into what they called the illegal detention of the 38 officials and deliberate vandalism committed by villagers.

In July, local government inspectors announced that the land in Dong Tam Village in My Duc District had always belonged to the military, and ordered officials to “take strong measures” to force citizens to return the land they had seized illegally.

Local people bristled at the findings, saying they would continue to fight the decision. If the land had been transfered to the military at any point, they should have been properly informed, they claimed.

At the Thursday meeting, Quoc said that the land dispute had escalated because the villagers had been ignored for too long.

For example, they had voiced their disagreement with the inspection results three months ago, but no government agency had responded, he said.

He said that instead of asking the villagers to “turn themselves in” as criminals, officials should have visited them and listened to their arguments.

“Law and order is not all about making arrests,” he said.

Hanoi’s influential Party leader Hoang Trung Hai appeared attentive during the speech, but reportedly made no comment.

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.

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