The Cable

This Village In Vietnam Is Holding A Dozen Police Officers Hostage

It’s a rare sign of resistance against property seizure in the Communist-controlled country.

This picture taken on April 3, 2017 shows female farmers looking after their families' cows along the Duong river in the northern province of Bac Ninh.  / AFP PHOTO / HOANG DINH Nam        (Photo credit should read HOANG DINH NAM/AFP/Getty Images)
This picture taken on April 3, 2017 shows female farmers looking after their families' cows along the Duong river in the northern province of Bac Ninh. / AFP PHOTO / HOANG DINH Nam (Photo credit should read HOANG DINH NAM/AFP/Getty Images)

Villagers in a Hanoi suburb are holding twelve police officers and more than a dozen others hostage amid a land dispute. The standoff is rare in Communist Vietnam, where land seizures are common but protesters have few rights.

More than 30 people are being held in My Duc, a village outside of the capital. The clash began on Saturday, when local officials detained four villagers after authorities made plans to seize 116 acres of land, allegedly without fair compensation. Local government officials aimed to give the land to Viettel, Vietnam’s largest telecom firm, which is run by the military, according to the activist-run website Vietnam Human Rights Defenders.

“Local residents said they have no intention of releasing the hostages unless the central government intervenes,” an activist named La Viet Dung told Agence France-Press after a trip to My Duc on April 16. “People have closed off their villages. No one can come in or out. The police are surrounding the area also, preventing media access. The situation is tense.”

Land disputes are a major source of conflict between residents and government authorities in the southeast Asian nation. In 2012, land-related grievances comprised 70 percent of all complaints lodged against the government. Local authorities may make deals with developers or state-run firms, evicting small farmers from their land without compensation.

The Communist Party has ruled over a unified Vietnam since 1975, when it implemented Beijing-style farm collectivization and a command-style economy. Beginning in the 1980s, after such policies had mired the country in poverty, the party pursued doi moi, or economic reforms, aimed at creating a socialist-oriented market economy. The subsequent rise of private enterprise and a mixed market economy has sparked rapid economic expansion. In 2016, the country’s GDP growth rate was about 6.7 percent, making it one of the fastest-growing economies in the world.

But reform remains incomplete. A 1993 land reform law granted land-use rights to private individuals, but no legal framework for true private ownership of land exists. That makes farmers vulnerable to land grabs by state-run corporations as land prices have skyrocketed amid high growth, particularly around urban centers.

Dissent is dangerous in Vietnam, where there are few human rights protections and little freedom of speech. But land seizures and forced evictions touch a national nerve. In some cases, state-run media have backed landholders against authorities. In 2012, local officials evicted a fish farmer named Doan Van Vuon from his land and tore down his home, then detained him after he attempted to defend his land using guns and land mines. Government-backed media outlets ran a series of articles sympathetic to Vuon, arousing public indignation around the country, and Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung intervened, punishing local officials and forcing them to return the seized land.

HOANG DINH NAM/AFP/Getty Images

Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian is a contributing writer at Foreign Policy. @BethanyAllenEbr

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