Authorities break promise on land dispute

The six day siege ended with handshakes and a promise that no legal action would be taken against the villagers. Photo courtesy AFP

The police are being accused of deliberate deception as they move to punish those who took part in a violent confrontation over land rights in April.

At the time, the authorities were praised for their conciliatory approach as they defused a violent standoff over disputed land in Dong Tam commune near Hanoi.

But hopes of a more enlightened strategy towards Vietnam’s numerous land disputes are now giving way to charges that it was just a temporary tactic to deceive angry residents.

Police last week began issuing calls for those involved in the April clashes to turn themselves in.

The messages were broadcast over loudspeakers in the rural district, where residents have been battling the military owned telecom company, Viettel, over land developments.

Criminal investigation

Residents rose up in April and took some 38 police officers and other officials hostage after the police moved in to arrest leaders of the protest movement.

The week-long standoff was resolved when the mayor of Hanoi, Nguyen Duc Chung, offered amnesty to those that took part and promised their complaints would be looked into.

A few weeks later, however, prosecutors announced that they had opened a criminal investigation into the incident. Those involved in the clashes are now being summoned to account for themselves.

The police move has provoked an angry response from community leaders, who say they will continue to resist the government’s efforts to deprive them of land and punish them for their campaign.

Some civil rights activists say that residents were naive to take the assurances of the mayor at face value, given that decisions over criminal cases lie with the prosecuting authorities.

The Dong Tam case, far from signalling a change in government strategy towards land protests, now looks like it could have damaging consequences for the future.

The next time officials attempt to defuse violent clashes with promises and assurances for the future they are even less likely to be believed.