KIM SON, Vietnam (AP) — Faced with a group of farmers refusing to give up their land for a housing project, the Communist Party officials negotiating the deal devised a solution: They went to a bank, opened accounts in the names of the holdouts and deposited what they decided was fair compensation. Then they took the land.
The farmers, angry at the sum and now forced to compete for jobs in a stuttering economy, blocked the main road connecting the capital to the north of the country for hours in December. In a macabre gesture, some clambered into coffins. Police who came to break up the demonstration were pelted with rocks. Several people were arrested.
‘‘This is an injustice,’’ said Nguyen Duc Hung, a rice farmer forced to give up 2,000 square meters (215,000 square feet) of land he had worked for more than 15 years. ‘‘The compensation money will help us to survive for several years, but after that, how can we make our living?’’
Forced confiscations of land are a major and growing source of public anger against Vietnam’s authoritarian one-party government. They often go hand-in-hand with corruption; local Communist Party elites have a monopoly on land deals, and many are alleged to have used it to make themselves rich.
These issues unite rural and urban Vietnamese in a way that discontent over political oppression tends not to.
Land disputes break out elsewhere in Asia, notably next door in China, but they have particular resonance in Vietnam, where wars and revolutions were fought in the name of the peasant class to secure collective ownership of the land.
The farmers who blocked the road quoted the country’s revolutionary leader, Ho Chi Minh, in the banners they posted at their camp. ‘‘Nothing is more precious than independence and freedom,’’ said one. ‘‘We would rather die than lose our land,’’ said another.
The government recognizes that the anger coursing through the countryside threatens its legitimacy, and has pledged to revise land laws this year to make them more equitable.
But establishing clear property rights and enforcing laws to protect them comes with ideological complications in a country still publicly committed to state ownership of the land even as it embraces free-market capitalism.
Vietnam abandoned Soviet-style collective farming in the 1980s and began its embrace of capitalism. In 1993, it passed a revised land law that gave citizens the right to use land for 20 years, but stopped short of allowing private ownership. Local Communist party officials can forcibly acquire land, not just for public interest projects such as bridges and roads but also on behalf of private investors building housing estates and industrial and recreational facilities.
Complaints about corruption when rezoning agricultural land to accommodate expensive industrial plots are widespread. So are allegations that the government pays farmers one-tenth the market value of their land, or less.
‘‘Compensation rates are very low and those who take the land profit greatly,’’ said economist and former adviser to the prime minister Pham Chi Lan. ‘‘The land laws have many loopholes which have created fertile ground for those who, with the support of local governments, take the land from people for their personal benefit.’’
Small groups of farmers, many of them women, routinely demonstrate in Hanoi outside government buildings about forced confiscation of land. They welcome people taking photos of them or trying to talk, but security forces immediately shoo visitors away from the scene.
Disputes have been commonplace for years, but are increasing in frequency as farmers become more aware of their rights and economic development increases demand for industrial land. Many 20-year leases granted in 1993 are expiring this year, bringing fresh opportunities for rezoning of the land — and more opportunity for conflict.
Government figures reported to parliament in November showed public complaints had risen to 4,200 in 2011, more than twice the total number of complaints received from 2005 to 2009. National assembly deputy Ho Thi Thuy acknowledged that corruption among local party officials was a problem.
‘‘Some people have abused the state policies to profit illegally,’’ she said, according to state-run media reports at the time.
The government has sought the assistance of the World Bank in revising the land law to reduce conflict. The World Bank and other outside institutions have called on the government to allow forced evictions only for works that benefit the public, not commercial projects, and to make the process more transparent and equitable.Continued...