Local parishioners continue to oppose plans to build a Cultural Center on land they say belongs to the Church.
RFA | 2022.11.08
Authorities in the Vietnamese capital Hanoi have sent hundreds of policemen to Dong Tam commune 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 which led to the death of the local spiritual leader.
Police officers, vans and ambulances arrived in Dong Tam on Tuesday last week, according to a local who went by the pseudonym Hoa to protect his identity.
“Hundreds of police officers and riot police were brought to Dong Tam commune on November 1. Ambulances, fire trucks, and cars to arrest people were parked at the communal stadium. All entrances to the commune have been fenced off.
“The entrances and exits to the village are fenced off. Each post is guarded by five to seven policemen. It's no less [of a provocation] than the day when the Dong Senh land was taken!"
Dong Senh is a piece of land of about 59 hectares (146 acres) in size 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 sent about 3,000 riot police to Hoanh village. In the ensuing fight they shot spiritual leader Le Dinh Kinh and arrested 29 locals. Three police officers were reportedly burned to death during the attack, although the police never produced their bodies.
The death sentence was given to two Dong Tam residents and one received a life sentence for murder. Others were sentenced to lengthy prison terms or given suspended sentences for “resisting on-duty state officials.”
Last Wednesday some policemen left Dong Tam, while the rest were stationed on village roads wearing plain clothes. Some officers went into the houses of parishioners who had objected to the construction of the Cultural Center on parish land, according to a woman who wished to be known as Hong, for safety reasons. She said the 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 police academy students. She said they all spoke with a central Vietnam accent. Hong added that strangers entering the commune are checked by police, but locals are free to move around and haven’t had any problems over the past week.
About 80 households in the parish out of around 300 Catholic households oppose the project while about 1,300 households in Hoanh village have expressed no opinion, Hong said.
Since Nov. 1, a small area of land of around 0.7 hectares (1.7 acres) in Hoanh village’s Thuong Lam parish has been surrounded with corrugated iron above head height with a signboard saying "Construction area. Entry prohibited."
According to parish priest Joseph Nguyen Van Thoan, this land has been owned by the Church for more than 100 years. He said it was bought by Father Loan of the Missionary Society to help the Church carry out its activities.
His claims are backed up by a document received by RFA, issued on June 27, 1956, saying "The Provincial Administrative Committee agrees to grant two acres of land to the parish church... to use for worship and for monks … to live and do religious work."
The reporter contacted Father Thoan about the latest developments on the land but he did not respond. Another local priest said the new Cultural Center could be used by the Church for flower displays, processions or holding Mass.
RFA called the office of the Hanoi People's Committee, but the person who picked up the phone hung up after the reporter introduced himself. The officer on duty at the My Duc District Police Station said the reporter needed to go to police headquarters to get information.
According to the district government’s Facebook page, the People's Committee of Dong Tam commune officially started renovation work on an old Cultural Centre in Hoanh village on Nov. 4. It was built in 2008 to be used for community activities by all the villagers. However, the building has deteriorated and needs to be repaired in order to complement the planned new Cultural Center.
The Facebook page says the project has been approved by the relevant authorities and is part of the commune's new rural development program. It claims the project received the support of the 93.87% of households in Hoanh village.
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