Faced with the threat of urban development, residents in the Van Giang district of Vietnam’s northern Hung Yen province decided to defy local authorities and protect their land by occupying a construction site on it. Between 2,000 and 4,000 security forces were deployed to crush their efforts. The brutal crackdown that ensued was caught on video.
Villagers in Van Giang have protested for years against local authorities’ decision to seize around 70 hectares [around 173 acres] of farming land to be converted into an Ecopark, or “eco urban township”. More than 4,000 families have banded together to fight against the mass urban development threatening their land. Over the last few weeks, however, the conflict has escalated. In a bold move, the villagers took over the Ecopark construction site, cutting off all access to the area and organising rotating guard shifts to protect their encampment.
On April 26, thousands of police and “civil defense” members armed with batons and teargas confronted the villagers at their encampment.
The police forces then charged the villagers, who had little more than stones to defend themselves.
Scenes of Vietnamese police beating villagers shocked the country’s online community. Around 20 villagers were arrested during the siege.
For the time being, the showdown has died down. Local media did not pick up the story, which was reported on a handful of blogs, such as this one. A brave move in a country where 18 bloggers and cyber dissidents are currently in jail, according to Reporters Without Borders.
"The authorities went as far as to pay thugs to destroy our crops"
Nguyen (not her real name) has been displaced by the planned development since April 26. Her comments were taken by RFI’s Vietnamese service.
The land grab has been like a foreign invasion. For us country people, the land is our sole means of earning a living and feeding our children.Up until now, we haven’t been able to dialogue with investors or the authorities about the project’s parametres. It’s as if they’re stealing our land. In the beginning, they offered to compensate us with 19.5 million dongs [around 700 euros] and 360 square metres [around 0.09 acres] of land. Offended, we contested the sum. The offer then went up to 54 million dongs [close to 2,000 euros]. These days, a rural family with two children spend on average 100 million dongs [3,600 euros] per year; in other words almost twice what was offered. What would we live off for the last six months of the year? The authorities explained to us that they would give us job training in different fields, but I just don’t see how that would work for those of us who are already 40 or 50 years old. Besides, there are very few opportunities in the area."No one has ever explained to us how this project will be useful in the future, and why it is justified"We’ve protested against this project for the past eight years on an administrative level, no one has reacted either locally or nationally. No one has ever explained to us how this project will be useful in the future, and why it is justified. What’s more, we know that it’s not essential. It’s clear that the very powerful company that’s been pushing the project is hoping to make profit on real estate speculation.The way things were done shows that there’s been an abuse of power. The government mobilised a lot of police. They went as far as to pay off thugs to destroy our crops. They were mowed down by a bulldozer. Our fields looked like they had been hit by a war, or swept clean by a tsunami. It was so sad.We will continue to fight for our rights and for the fair application of the law. The foreign press has recently began reporting what the Vietnamese authorities have subjected us to. The Communist Party [which is currently the ruling party in Vietnam] is supposed to be an extension of the people. They’re supposed to come from agricultural backgrounds like us. It’s unfathomable that they would now steal our land.