Vietnam arrested 20 people after heavily-armed riot police used tear gas to break up a protest by hundreds of angry farmers, reports said on Wednesday, in the culmination of a six-year land dispute.
Around 700 farmers clashed with police and plain-clothed security officers on Tuesday to end the demonstration over the confiscation of land for a planned satellite city in Hung Yen province on the outskirts of the capital Hanoi.
The official Tuoi Tre newspaper said that after a “minor clash” during the eviction, police arrested 20 people who were now under investigation for preventing public officials carrying out their duties.
Officials used two tear gas grenades to break up a crowd of farmers who were trying to prevent bulldozers from accessing the site, which is some 25 kilometres (15 miles) southeast of Hanoi, the VNExpress reported.
The eviction proceeded “without military involvement or gunfire,” it quoted a local official as saying, contradicting eyewitness reports given to AFP Tuesday that indicated police had fired warning shots above the crowd.
The farmers say a private company, Viet Hung Co. Ltd., has been granted some 500 hectares (1,235 acres) of their land without proper negotiations as part of plans to develop a satellite city named EcoPark.
Viet Hung has been trying since 2004 to build EcoPark, the biggest ecological city in northern Vietnam, which VNExpress said Wednesday had a total investment of some $6 billion, a much larger figure than previously estimated.
Land disputes with local authorities are an increasingly contentious issue in communist Vietnam, where all land is owned by the state and usage rights are not always clear or protected.