Vietnamese officials terrorized by message threats over local river dredging project

By Phuong Son   March 15, 2017 | 11:55 pm PT
Bac Ninh Province has asked the Prime Minister to step in to solve an apparent stand-off with the transport ministry.

Officials in Bac Ninh Province are seeking help from the country's prime minister to stop dredging work on an eroding river, a move that has pitted local authorities against the transport ministry.

Leaders of the province say they have received threatening messages demanding the dredging continue, and said they want Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc to check if there is any mafia involvement behind the project, which has stirred public anger and cost at least VND30 billion ($1.32 million) in repair work.

Public awareness of environmental protection in Vietnam has been rising in recent years following a number of grassroots campaigns, but the process has also been challenged by corporate interests and various levels of action taken by authorities.

The dredging project, run by the transport ministry's Vietnam Inland Waterways Administration, started on the Cau River in 2014, Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper reported.

Illegal sand excavation has caused erosion along the river banks, Nguyen Tu Quynh, the province’s chairman, was quoted as saying. Bac Ninh has already spent VND30 billion fixing the problem, and has been calling for the work to end since 2015.

However, activities resumed in late 2016, with around 40 boats sucking up sand from the river every day.

Quynh said the province subsequently made another request for operations to be halted, which was approved by the transport ministry.

But earlier this month, Bac Ninh received a note from the ministry saying the project would continue.

“That’s why we are asking for the prime minister to step in,” Quynh told Tuoi Tre.

He said several Bac Ninh officials, including himself, had received threats via text messages urging them to allow the project to continue.

The province has asked the Prime Minister to order an investigation by the Ministry of Public Security to establish whether the threats came from government officials.

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