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.

Agence France Presse - April 24, 2012


Security forces seize land from Vietnam villagers

Thousands of riot police overwhelmed villagers in Vietnam who tried to block them from taking control of a disputed plot of land outside Hanoi on Tuesday in the second high-profile clash over property so far this year.

Villagers in the district of Van Giang just east of the capital had vowed to stand their ground after local authorities announced that they would forcibly appropriate 70 hectares (173 acres) of land for use in a satellite city development called Ecopark.

Many villagers camped out on the land overnight, burning bonfires and keeping vigil, photos showed.

But a force of 2,000-4,000 police and unidentified men not wearing uniforms converged on the land early on Tuesday morning, three villagers and one other witness said.

"We threw bottles of gasoline at them, but it did not help, they had shields. They used clubs to beat us. Even when we ran back to the village, they followed us and beat us," said a villager who gave his name as Kien.

As in China, where land grabs sparked a revolt in the southern village of Wukan that lasted for months, land conflicts are a leading source of friction between the public and officials in Vietnam. All land is owned by the state but usage rights are not always clear or protected.

Two people at the scene said they had heard what sounded like gunfire but Kien said the sound came from stun grenades that the security forces threw at the villagers. He said 10 people were arrested.

"They have acquired the land and used bulldozers to destroy our crops. We have lost to them. I don't know what to do next," he said.

A senior government official on the scene declined to comment and said to call back later. Officials at Viet Hung Urban Development and Investment Joint-Stock Co, which is developing Ecopark, could not be reached for an immediate comment.

Hung Yen farmers have been staging protests on and off since the Ecopark project was launched several years ago, claiming that the government granted land to the developers without proper consultation or compensation.

"If they want the land we just ask that the investors come to talk to us directly about it, but they won't," said a villager named Tuyen contacted by telephone in Van Giang.

At least two well-known, Hanoi-based bloggers rushed to Van Giang to chronicle the conflict. The issue has not appeared in state-run media.

In January, farmers outside the city of Haiphong ambushed security forces with homemade landmines and guns in a bid to stop local officials from taking their land.

The case was covered in state-controlled media and the fish farmer who organized the defense, Doan Van Vuon, was catapulted to cult hero status, piling pressure on the authorities over a highly sensitive issue.

In February, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung publicly chastised local authorities for their handling of the case.

By Ed Lane - Reuters - April 24, 2012