Residents in Tan Binh district received no warning of the demolitions earlier this month and were given little compensation, according to local media reports.

Land conflicts have risen in Vietnam since the ruling Communist Party launched its economic reforms, or doi moi, in the late 1980s, which resulted in more farming land being taken over to build highways and large industrial zones.

Disputes over property between Catholics and authorities are common, and have posed one of the key obstacles to a normalisation of relations with the Vatican.

"Historically, the party-state has distrusted the Catholic Church because of its close connection to the French colonial government," said John Gillespie, director of the Asia-Pacific Business Regulation Group at Monash University in Melbourne.

Church land was taken over by the state after 1954 in the North, although some of the land was returned during the 1980s and 1990s when the government relaxed its opposition to organised religion, he said.

"Current disputes often occur when former church land is redeveloped by the private sector," he said on Thursday.

Vietnam has the most number of Catholics in South-east Asia, after the Philippines.

In several incidents, churches and monasteries in Hanoi, Hue and Saigon have been attacked and come under pressure to accept demolition and the expropriation of their land, according to a report published Wednesday by Christian group Open Doors.

Local authorities cited by state-run Tuoi Tre newspaper said the homes in Tan Binh district were built illegally on public land.

The incident reflected a "pattern of behaviour" of the government towards church land in the country, said Vincent Long Van Nguyen, a Vietnamese-born bishop in Australia.

"Authorities often resort to the use of force to seize such properties and land in places which have potential commercial value," Nguyen said in a statement posted last week on the website of the diocese of Parramatta near Sydney.

"The latest land grabbing exercise has caused extensive damage, destruction and hurt to hundreds of families. Many have been left homeless, their livelihoods ruined and their lives irreparably damaged," he said.

Authorities in Tan Binh district were not available for comment.

Last year, Catholic nuns were beaten in a protest over disputed land, while in 2017 violence erupted over land belonging to the Thien An Saint Benedict monastery in Hue, about 700 km (435 miles) southeast of the capital Hanoi.

By Rina Chandran - Reuters - January 18, 2019

Tan Binh district removes 110 illegal construction works

The People’s Committee of Tan Binh district in HCMC has applied coercive site clearance to about 110 illegal construction works and land encroachment in a 4.8 hectares land plot, called vegetable garden, in Ward 6.

A leader of Tan Binh said that the district authorities have implemented two times of deconstruction on January 4 and January 8 to 110 works that were built without license in the area planned for schools and park.

Of the dismantled ones, some were built before 2015 and as many as 42 were built in 2018. A number of works have been traded and transferred with unnotarized and unlawful papers.

The People’s Committee of Tan Binh district said that construction violation in the vegetable garden has complicatedly taken place for many years. The site clearance process has been implemented in the right order and procedure and all relevant decisions have been posted at the violating works.

After giving households site clearance decisions, they have carried their belongings out on their self-awareness. The district has assisted residents by transporting their belongings, giving those in need VND3 million a month to pay rent and providing each household VND2 million in financial aid. The district will give them more assistance in the upcoming time.

During the site clearance process, authorized agencies took some extremists to the district’s Police Department headquarters to work and let them out on the same day.

In response to reporters’ queries about management irresponsibility resulting in the illegal construction works, the representative said that the district had considered responsibilities of relevant individuals and teams.

The representative also explained difficulties. For instance, residents transported building materials by motorbikes and built their works at nights. In addition, they had not cooperated with authorized agencies in handling violations.

“The coercive dismantlement of the violating works aims at ensuring the strictness of the law and preventing plan breaking. The district has cleared unlicensed works, not coercively reclaimed land as per rumors spreading on social networks,” the representative said.

The vegetable garden has 110 illegal construction works for rent and catering business. The total area of unlicensed construction works and vegetable planting approximates 4.8 hectares.

Authorized agencies affirmed that they have reviewed and determined that 4.8 hectares of the vegetable garden are public land encroached by residents. After site clearance, the district has required relevant sides to ensure urban hygiene and good looking and let residents continue managing the land.

Construction in the area will comprise a nursery school, primary and secondary schools and a 10,000 square meters park. They are all public works. So there has been no land reclamation for trade as per public discussion, stressed the representative of Tan Binh district People’s Committee.

Currently, relevant agencies are building the financial plan in preparation for investment and construction of the school complex.

The district People’s Committee has worked with agencies to submit to the city People’s Committee assistance and supporting policies to residents after clearance of the vegetable garden.

All relevant information will be publicly posted at Ward 6 People’s Committee and quarters’ headquarters for residents to give opinions before being officially approved.

“We hope that residents in and surrounding the vegetable garden will work with local authorities to survey and enumerate area as well as give opinions about assistance measure to each case. Basing on residents’ will, the district authorities will submit suitable measures to the authorized agencies for approval”, said the representative.

Sai Gon Giai Phong - January 10, 2019