Vietnam: peasant protests over land-grab

Hundreds of residents of Van Giang district of Hung Yen province on the edge of Vietnam’s capital held a protest Oct. 8 in front of the Central Office of Public Relations building in downtown Hanoi, demanding the return of land they say was illegally confiscated from them to develop a controversial satellite city. After villagers rallied in front of the building for some time, officials emerged to meet with them for about 30 minutes, but protest leader Dam Van Dong, told Radio Free Asia’s Vietnamese service their complaints were not resolved. “We have made clear in our requests that the land which Hung Yen authorities of every rank have taken from us be returned,” he said.

The group is in opposition to the EcoPark satellite city project, which has led to a number of confrontations over the past several years since local authorities granted the developer 500 hectares (1,235 acres) of land used by the villagers. “We people of Van Giang are opposed to the EcoPark project, which is totally illegal according to Vietnamese law,” Dam Van Dong said. “So we’ll fight to the end. We are assured that we will be successful in having our land returned to us.”

Land for the project was confiscated in two stages in 2009 and 2012, but around 2,000 households have refused to take compensation from the government, saying the amount is significantly below what they are owed. In May 2012 this prestigious new development  just outside the capital of Hanoi, won an “Asia Pacific Property Award” recognizing “best practices in the real estate sector” from the Vietnam Architects Association. The Vietnam Real Estate website calls the EcoPark project a “perfect harmony of humans and nature.” Just weeks before the award was granted, in April, villagers launched an angry protest against the land expropriation and an estimated 3,000 police were called in to break it up with tear gas and smoke grenades.  In June, holdout families clashed with a group of men hired to clear their land for EcoPark site, leaving several villagers injured and others vowing to protect their homes should demolition crews return. 

The controversy was discussed at a “2012 Asia Land Forum” held last week in Phnom Penh, the Cambodian capital, by the International Land Coalition and Oxfam’s GROW campaign, which has just issued a new report entitled “Our Land, Our Lives: Time Out on the Global Land Rush,” focussing on how purchases of agricultural land around the world often adversely impacts the poorest and most vulnerable. The report warns that global increases in the price of food and the value of land used for agriculture has resulted in “land grabs” in developing countries. While the research recognizes that investment can have positive development impacts, Oxfam is calling on the World Bank to put a temporary freeze on investments that involve large-scale land acquisitions. (CSR Asia, Oct. 10; RFA, Oct. 9; Viet Nam News, May 5)

Protests against rising food prices have been reported in recent weeks from Haiti and elsewhere.