Hanoi mayor, villagers secure end of hostage crisis

AP News
Posted: Apr 22, 2017 4:33 AM

HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — The mayor of Vietnam's capital met Saturday with representatives from a village on the outskirts of the city and secured the release of 19 policemen and officials who had been held hostage by villagers over a land dispute, ending the weeklong crisis.

In a statement signed by Mayor Nguyen Duc Chung and read out over loudspeakers, the mayor promised not to prosecute the villagers involved in the hostage crisis and said their land grievances would be addressed, the online newspaper Vnexpress reported.

The standoff began a week ago when police clashed with villagers who alleged that their farmland was illegally taken by a military-run telecoms company.

Nearly a dozen villagers were arrested. Villagers then took as many as 38 policemen and officials hostage. Sixteen were released and three managed to escape, leaving 19 remaining.

All the detained villagers were released.

Before the two-hour dialogue on Saturday, villagers had removed barricades that had been erected around the village.

The center of the dispute is 59 hectares (145 acres) of land in Dong Tam village, some 40 kilometers (25 miles) south of Hanoi, which was planned for a military airfield in 1980. The airfield was never built and part of the land was given to the military-run Viettel telecoms firm, the country's largest cellphone operator.

The villagers insisted that land was their farmland, while authorities said the villagers had trespassed on the land.

The villagers said the authorities were to blame for the episode.

"I admit that it's wrong to hold people, but it stemmed from the wrongdoing of the authorities first," villager Bui Van Ky was quoted by Vnexpress as telling Chung.

Chung said the city government had decided to inspect the land and the findings will be announced within 45 days.

Economist Pham Chi Lan said the main cause of Vietnam's rampant land disputes are the lower-than-market-price compensation for land taken by the state, particular for property projects.

"Behind property projects were thousands of farmer families who lost their land and faced prospects of being poor from generation to generation because they have no other jobs to do other than farming," she said.

In Vietnam, all land belongs to the state and people have the right to use it, but not to own it.

Lan said that in 2013, when the country revised the land law, there were proposals for multi-ownership of land to include the state, community and individuals, but the proposals were not accepted.

She said there could be repeats of the Dong Tam incident "if there are no strong changes in the legal system and the behavior of the authorities."