Vietnamese riot police fired warning shots and tear gas to break up a protest by hundreds of angry farmers against a forced eviction on the outskirts of the capital Hanoi yesterday, witnesses said.
About 700 farmers had gathered from late on Monday, in the culmination of a six-year-long dispute over the confiscation of land for a planned satellite city, after hearing the long-threatened eviction would go ahead.
“Hundreds of police, uniformed and armed, were in the area. People threw rocks at a policeman … The police arrested seven or 10 people,” said anti-corruption activist Le Hien Duc, who was at the site.
Authorities blocked all the roads leading into the area in Hung Yen Province where the farmers gathered, and were believed to have seized some 72 hectares of land, which held 166 households.
“Gunshots were fired in the air ... Police used tear gas and beat some people, then took them away. They have cleared all our farmland,” said a 51-year-old protester whose name was withheld to protect her.
Land disputes with local authorities are an increasingly contentious issue in communist Vietnam, where all land is owned by the state and usage rights are not always clear or protected.
The government says it provides adequate compensation for those being relocated, but corruption among local officials alleged to have siphoned off the allocated funds for personal use has led to increased unrest.
“I have never felt angry like this before,” said Duc, 80.
“I spent my whole life fighting for the people, but now, I really feel pain. We are all Vietnamese, how come we are treating each other like this,” he added.
The area to be developed will become EcoPark, a satellite city being built by a private company, Viet Hung Co, which the farmers say was granted about 500 hectares of their land without proper negotiations.
The Viet Hung company has been trying since 2004 to build the new city on the land, which is about 25km southeast of Hanoi, for a total investment estimated at about US$250 million.
After a series of protests staged by the farmers in 2006, the project was temporarily suspended, but work has since restarted.
EcoPark offered residents of the area 36 million dong (US$1,700) as compensation for every 360m2 plot of land.
A number of households refused to accept, saying the compensation was not enough, farmers said.