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​Doan Ngoc Hai angers Vietnam’s southernmost province with ‘lawless land’ comment

Friday, September 29, 2017, 12:17 GMT+7

The leader of Ho Chi Minh City’s ‘sidewalk clearing’ campaign sparked anger from Ca Mau authorities when it referred to a district in the southernmost province as a place without law.

While Doan Ngoc Hai, deputy chairman of District 1 and captain of the controversial sidewalk clearance campaign, insisted the comment wasn’t meant seriously, the District 1 Party committee offered an apology on Thursday to Ca Mau authorities and others who felt insulted by the deputy chairman’s word.

On September 21, Hai led his team in a crackdown on Vo Van Kiet Street where he found several illegally parked cars. During a conversation with one of the drivers, Hai said that “as District 1 residents, we must know and respect the law; otherwise, we may as well be living in U Minh forest.”

U Minh is a vast forest in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta, known for its rich plant and animal biodiversity. The forest is divided into the Upper U Minh in Kien Giang Province and Lower U Minh in Ca Mau.

While Hai only mentioned “U Minh forest” in his controversial statement, Ca Mau authorities interpreted the comment as insult to the local people.

Explanation demanded

On September 25, the education and propaganda committee under the Ca Mau Party Committee took issue directly with Doan Ngoc Hai through a formal dispatch requesting a statement on the shocking comment.

The dispatch reiterated his statement, citing a report by news website saostar.vn, and claimed that it had sparked resentment from Ca Mau and U Minh residents. “[We] demand that [you] confirm whether or not [you] made the statement in your conversation with the offending driver and issue [an] immediate response,” the education and propaganda committee said in the document.

Huynh Thanh Hai, secretary of the District 1 Party Committee, confirmed to Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper on Thursday that he has submitted a letter of apology to the Ca Mau education and propaganda committee, the Party Committee of U Minh, and the Ca Mau administration.

The Party Committee is the leading organ of the Communist Party of Vietnam in each of the country’s provinces and cities. There are also district-level Party Committees.

“As the leading organ of District 1, [we] extend our sincere apologies to our [Ca Mau] comrades; especially those of U Minh District, which has established a fellowship with District 1,” the apology letter reads.

The District 1 Party Committee verified Hai’s statement, but added that “it was just a slip of the tongue.”

“The statement stemmed neither from Hai’s personal thoughts nor the beliefs of the District 1 people and authorities. We did not mean to make any comparison or underestimation of your locality,” the committee said.

Doan Ngoc Hai (center) during a crackdown
Doan Ngoc Hai (center) during a crackdown

Many Tuoi Tre readers have commented that Hai’s statement most likely wasn’t meant to insult Ca Mau or the U Minh people, as it appears to have been a simile and should have been interpreted figuratively.

Others say there would have been no problem if Hai hadn’t mentioned location and had simply said “if we do not respect the law, we should move to live in the forest.”

On Thursday, Hai, who previously told reporters that the District 1 administration has yet to receive the dispatch, issued an official letter, responding to the dispatch from Ca Mau authorities.

He said his statement should be put into its right context, adding that he will not comment to any out of context citation or interpretation of his words.

“Not a single word of my statement or its connotation is meant to refer to the beloved people in U Minh in particular, and Ca Mau people in general,” he wrote in the letter.

Hai also asserted in the letter that he always loves his compatriots in 63 cities and provinces across the country, from the northernmost area of Lung Cu to the southernmost Ca Mau.

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