HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam – Revolting villagers in northern Vietnam freed on Friday one of the 20 policemen and officials who have been held hostage since April 16.
Protests that began towards the end of last week in the district of My Duc, on the outskirts of Hanoi, are still happening despite attempts by local authorities to negotiate with the villagers, who are opposing the seizure of their farmland.
Activist Anh Chi told EFE the district’s head of propaganda, Dang Can Canh, was released Friday morning because he was suffering from pain in his ribs.
His release follows that of 15 other hostages freed on Monday, while three others have escaped.
“In total, 38 were held captive, but now there are only 19 left,” Anh Chi said.
The villagers are demanding a meeting with Hanoi Mayor Nguyen Duc Chung to reach an agreement on the alleged expropriation of their land in favor of army-owned telecommunications firm Viettel.
Chung moved to the district administration office on Thursday to meet the villagers, but they refused to leave the zone where they have been revolting due to fear of government retaliation.
“The office is located 17 kilometers (10.5 miles) from the villagers’ neighborhood, but they do not want to leave, nor does Chung want to enter the village, probably due to fear,” Anh Chi said.
According to news portal VnExpress – one of few local media outlets regularly publishing information on the conflict – the mayor is committed to investigating the land dispute and addressing the issues, for which he has urged cooperation from residents.
Footage posted by activists on social media show how the villagers used trunks and stones to make barricades, which prevent the entry of security forces.
The incidents began Saturday, when the police arrested 15 people who resisted leaving their land, saying it was being illegally occupied by Viettel.
The arrests led to violence by a huge group of villagers, who clashed with police and took the 38 officials and public employees captive.
Land disputes are one of the main causes of social conflict in Vietnam, a country under a strict communist regime where street protests are not allowed.