Authorities in Vietnam’s capital Hanoi have dispatched hundreds of police officers to Dong Tam township to help the local government build a new cultural center in Hoanh village on land claimed by the Catholic Church. The controversial site has seen several protests over the years, including one that resulted in the death of the local spiritual leader.
Police officers, vans and ambulances arrived in Dong Tam on Tuesday last week, according to a local man who used the pseudonym Hoa to protect his identity.
“Hundreds of police officers and riot police were taken to Dong Tam Township on November 1. Ambulances, fire engines and cars were parked at the municipal stadium to arrest people. All entrances to the community have been fenced off.
“The entrances and exits to the village are fenced. Each post is guarded by five to seven police officers. It’s no less [of a provocation] than the day Dong Senh land was taken!”
Dong Senh is an approximately 59-hectare piece of land that has been a flashpoint for land disputes between locals and the city government.
In early 2020, the Ministry of Public Security and the Hanoi Police Department dispatched about 3,000 riot police to Hoanh village. In the ensuing fight, they shot dead spiritual leader Le Dinh Kinh and arrested 29 local people. Three police officers were reportedly burned during the attack, although police never recovered their bodies.
Two Dong Tam residents were sentenced to death and one received a life sentence for murder. Others were sentenced to long prison terms or suspended sentences for “resisting government officials on duty.”
Last Wednesday, some police officers left Dong Tam while the rest were stationed in plain clothes on village streets. According to a woman who asked to be called Hong for security reasons, some officers went to the homes of parishioners who had objected to the cultural center being built on communal land. She said officers stayed there until the evening and even cooked for a sick woman.
Hong said most of the police officers she came into contact with were very young and appeared to be students at the police academy. She said they all spoke with a Central Vietnamese accent. Hong added that strangers entering the community would be checked by police, but locals are free to roam and have not faced any problems over the past week.
About 80 households in the parish of about 300 Catholic households oppose the project, while about 1,300 households in Hoanh village have expressed no opinion, Hong said.
As of November 1, a small piece of land of about 0.7 hectares (1.7 acres) in Thuong Lam Township of Hoanh Village has been surrounded by corrugated iron above head height, with a sign reading “Construction area. No entry” is written.
According to Rev. Joseph Nguyen Van Thoan, this land has been owned by the Church for more than 100 years. He said it was purchased by Father Loan of the Missionary Society to help the church conduct its activities.
His claims are supported by a document obtained by RFA on June 27, 1956, which states: “The Provincial Administrative Committee agrees to allocate two acres of land to the Parish Church… for the use of worship and for monks… for living and do religious work.”
The document, issued on June 27, 1956, granting land to the parish church. CREDIT: Ha Dong Province Administrative Committee/RFA
The reporter contacted Father Thoan about the latest developments in the country, but he did not reply. Another local priest said the new cultural center could be used by the church for flower displays, processions or holding masses.
RFA called the Hanoi People’s Committee office, but the person who picked up the phone hung up after the reporter introduced himself. The duty officer of the My Duc District Police Station said the reporter had to go to the police headquarters to get information.
According to the county government’s Facebook page, the Dong Tam Township People’s Committee officially started renovation work on an old cultural center in Hoanh Village on Nov. 4. It was built in 2008 to be used by all villagers for community activities. However, the building has fallen into disrepair and needs repairs to complement the proposed new cultural center.
According to the Facebook page, the project has been approved by the relevant authorities and is part of the municipality’s new rural development programme. It claims the project has received the support of 93.87% of households in Hoanh Village.