Vietnamese riot police fired warning shots and tear gas to break up a protest by hundreds of angry farmers against a forced eviction on the outskirts of the capital Hanoi on Tuesday, witnesses said.
Around 700 farmers gathered from late Monday in the culmination of a six-year-long dispute over the confiscation of land for a planned satellite city, after hearing the long-threatened eviction would go ahead.
“Hundreds of police, uniformed and armed, were in the area. People threw rocks at a policeman… The police arrested seven or 10 people,” anti-corruption activist Le Hien Duc, who was at the site, told AFP.
Authorities blocked all the roads leading into the area in Hung Yen province where the farmers gathered, and were believed to have seized some 72 hectares (178 acres) of land, which was home to 166 households.
“Gunshots were fired in the air… Police used tear gas and beat some people, then took them away. They have cleared all our farmland,” said a 51-year-old protester whose name AFP has withheld to protect her security.
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.
The government says it provides adequate compensation for those being relocated, but corruption among local officials alleged to have siphoned off the allocated funds for personal use has led to increased unrest.
More than 70 percent of all complaints lodged with authorities nationwide concern land.
“I have never felt angry like this before,” said Duc, 80. “I spent my whole life fighting for the people, but now, I really feel pain. We are all Vietnamese, how come we are treating each other like this.”
The area is to be developed by EcoPark, a satellite city being built by a private company, Viet Hung Co. Ltd., which the farmers say was granted some 500 hectares of their land without proper negotiations.
The Viet Hung company has been trying since 2004 to build the new city on the land, which is about 25 kilometres (18 miles) southeast of Hanoi, for a total investment estimated at around $250 million.
EcoPark offered residents of the area 36 million dong ($1,700) as compensation for every 360-square-metre plot of land. A number of households refused to accept, saying the compensation was too low, farmers said.
After a series of protests staged by the farmers in 2006, the project was temporarily suspended, but work has since restarted.
The official Tin Tuc newspaper reported Tuesday, quoting a provincial government official, that local authorities supported the eviction, saying the development project should go ahead “in accordance with laws”.
The eviction would also help “overcome the situation of some people in the project area gathering to complain… causing public disorder in Hanoi,” he said.
Farmers from the area have organised repeated protests this year in Hanoi which have been broken up by authorities.
The renewed protests followed a high-profile incident earlier this year in the northern port city of Hai Phong where a farmer injured six police officers as he resisted a forced eviction.
Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung later declared that eviction illegal and acknowledged that Vietnam’s current land laws were unclear.