Officials seek talks in hostage drama

Villagers have set up barricades to try to seal off the district. Photo courtesy Reuters.

The authorities appear to be seeking a peaceful solution to the standoff at Dong Tam commune near Hanoi, where villagers are continuing to hold nineteen police and officials hostage.

The Mayor of Hanoi, Nguyen Duc Chung, failed in his first attempt to meet protesting villagers on Thursday, but suggested that their grievances will be addressed anew.

The district, in the countryside south-west of the capital, has been blockaded by residents infuriated by a police raid in which four local people were detained last Saturday.

They have been in a long running land dispute with local authorities over plans to build an airport.

“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 Mr Chung, in comments quoted by official media.

“I promise it will be done properly this time.”

Mr Chung said his priority was to release the 19 officials still being detained in a public office in the district.

One more local official was released on Thursday by the villagers – a gesture of good will after he complained of medical problems.

Fifteen were released earlier in the week and another three escaped.

Seeking a peaceful outcome

The residents drove out police in violent clashes on Sunday and have since built barricades to try to prevent another intrusion by police vehicles.

They said thugs thought to have been hired by the local authorities had attempted to break in at one point.

Since then, the Hanoi city authorities appear to have been told by central government to seek a peaceful outcome.

Mr Chung invited a hundred village representatives to meet him on Thursday at a local government office in another part of the sprawling rural district. They refused to attend, with some telling reporters that they feared arrest.  Protesters have indicated that Mr Chung should come into Dong Tam commune itself in order to negotiate.

Local farmers say they have been offered inadequate compensation for land which is being repossessed by the military owned Viettel corporation for the construction of an airport.

The confrontation is being watched carefully by farmers across the country who are locked in similar land disputes with the authorities.

State controlled media have given some cautious coverage to the dispute, although much more information and comment is available on social media.

Similar land disputes have ended in violence in the past, but an uprising on the current scale is highly unusual in Vietnam where the Communist party shows little tolerance of dissent.

There does appear to be some understanding in the leadership, however, that residents are sometimes unjustly served by corrupt and venal local officials.

The Deputy Secretary of the Hanoi Communist Party Office, Dao Duc Toan, was quoted as saying that the land situation in Dong Tam had been complicated by “lax management”- an apparent concession that residents had been badly served.