Vietnam village releases hostages held in land row


HANOI — More than a dozen police and officials held hostage by Vietnamese villagers over a land dispute were released Saturday, state media reported, ending a week-long standoff that had gripped the country. The rare act of defiance in My Duc, a suburban district of capital Hanoi, was sparked last week by clashes between authorities and villagers who said their farmland was being illegally seized for a military-owned telecoms firm. After authorities detained a number of local residents protesting the seizure, including an 82-year-old man, villagers retaliated by taking 38 police officers and officials hostage. Following a week of tension, Hanoi’s mayor Nguyen Duc Chung was welcomed into the community on Saturday. It had been sealed off by barricades made from logs, sandbags and bricks.

After the negotiations “villagers led a working team to the community house to release the 19” remaining hostages, state-run Tuoi Tre newspaper reported. Sixteen other hostages had been released earlier in the week, while three others had escaped. The detained villagers were also freed.

“We admit it was wrong to hold these people,” Tuoi Tre quoted villager Bui Van Ky as saying during the meeting with the mayor. “But this came from (the authorities’) prolonged announcement, saying that 59 hectares of our cultivated land belongs to the military. … We have been very angry,” he added.

Vietnam’s communist government strictly curbs freedom of expression, bars an independent media and jails dissidents.

But flash points do occur, with property disputes a key source of tension in a country where all land is technically owned by the state. The government allocates land-use rights certificates to citizens but the laws are opaque, leaving poor farmers vulnerable.

According to state media, mayor Chung vowed to investigate the land dispute, which the community said had been ignored for years.

He also reportedly promised villagers they would not face criminal charges for the hostage crisis. Armed police blocked AFP reporters from entering the community while the negotiations were under way on Saturday.