Fifteen out of nearly 40 law enforcement officers held captive by residents of a commune outside Hanoi since last weekend have been released, with three others escaping, authorities said while giving a detailed account of the escalating situation on Tuesday.
All of the released people are members of a flying squad, who were dispatched to resolve a land-related protest by villagers in Dong Tam Commune, My Duc District, 30km from the center of the city, on Saturday.
A total of 38 people were then taken hostage by local residents.
As of Tuesday afternoon, 15 police officers had been freed by the villagers, while three others managed to escape by themselves, Bach Thanh Dinh, deputy director of the Hanoi police department, confirmed to Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper.
Twenty people are still being held in Dong Tam and police are calling on villagers to release them as soon as possible, Dinh added.
In the latest official statement on Tuesday, the propaganda and education commission under the Hanoi Party Committee also detailed what had led to the disturbance in Dong Tam.
Defense ministry-managed land
According to the commission, in 1980, the government tasked the defense ministry with developing the Mieu Mon Airport on an area covering Dong Tam and three communes in nearby Chuong My District.
In October 2014, the defense ministry authorized the Air Defense-Air Force of Vietnam to use the said land plot as the base for its Brigade 28.
The ministry later withdrew 50.03 hectares of the land plot then managed by the air defense force and transferred it to the military-run Viettel Group to develop a defense project known as Project A1.
Forty-six hectares of this 50.03 hectare piece of land lies within Dong Tam territory, which was later illegally occupied by some from the commune’s Hoanh village.
Although the Hanoi administration and the defense ministry assert that the 46-hectare land plot in Dong Tam is military-zoned land, some local residents still staged a protest when Viettel started reclaiming the area for site clearance to begin construction for Project A1 in 2016.
Fourteen households in Dong Tam were using the land plot at the time Viettel took over the area.
In mid-2016, these residents held a number of activities to hinder the site clearance task, such as gathering in crowds when officers came to measure the area or rallying en masse.
The situation has since become increasingly complicated and peaked in February this year, when Viettel began construction on the Project A1. Local residents obstructed the construction work, removing the signs and banners claiming that the area is military land and even bringing four tractors and one excavator to the area for agriculture cultivation.
With the situation escalating rapidly in March, Hanoi police eventually decided to launch an investigation into the ‘disturbing social order’ case on March 30.
Police have also summoned individuals involved from Dong Tam three times, and arrested four on April 15, leading to the latest disturbance.
Shortly after officers captured the four villagers, other residents besieged a police car, damaging five other law enforcement vehicles and held 38 people, including My Duc officers and policemen, captive.
The leaders of the protest asked villagers to surround the village with big wood logs and stockpile ‘weapons’ including wooden sticks, fuel and lime, ready to fight against any effort to rescue the hostages.
Over the last few days, villagers have indeed thrown stones and gravels at Hanoi officials and police officers when they attempted to come to hold a dialogue with the protesters and rescue the hostages.
The Hanoi administration asserted that the land plot in question is under the management of the defense ministry, and Project A1 plays a crucial role in the country’s defense and the military’s security.
The capital’s administrators said they are still resolving lawsuits in regard to the land plot filed by Dong Tam residents, adding that the violent reaction to law enforcement officers as seen in the commune is a serious violation of the law.
Different measures are being taken to de-escalate the situation, according to Hanoi authorities.