Vietnamese police 'held hostage' by residents in land dispute

Land disputes are common in Vietnam, where powerful individuals and companies often make claims on property. PHOTO: AFP

HANOI (AFP) - At least a dozen Vietnamese police have been held hostage over a land dispute with residents near Hanoi, activists and state media said on Sunday (April 16), in a rare show of defiance of communist authorities.

The incident began on Saturday in the suburban My Duc district when authorities clashed with villagers who alleged their land was illegally seized for sale by a military-owned telecoms firm.

The exact number of policemen and officials being held by residents could not immediately be confirmed, but images on social media showed at least 12 uniformed men under guard.

"Local residents said they have no intention of releasing the hostages unless the central government intervenes," said La Viet Dung, a social activist who visited the site on Sunday morning.

"People have closed off their villages. No one can come in or out. The police are surrounding the area also, preventing media access. The situation is tense," Mr Dung told AFP.

A My Duc resident told AFP on Sunday that the police had fired in the air during Saturday's clashes.

"Some residents were also taken into custody by police for unknown reasons," he said, requesting anonymity.

Local police and the authorities refused to comment.

But state media said four residents were taken into custody while some police were also being held by villagers.

"Some citizens... have committed acts of obstruction and illegally held Hanoi police officers," the Vietnam News Agency said, quoting a police announcement.

Land disputes are common in Vietnam, where powerful individuals and companies often make claims on property.

The government strictly controls freedom of expression and the right to protest but flashpoints occur.

In 2012 a Vietnamese fish farmer used homemade weapons to resist a forced eviction and injured seven policemen. The farmer was jailed for five years, but his case became a symbol of growing public dissatisfaction over land rights.

In 2013 a gunman killed a provincial official before committing suicide in an apparent dispute over land in northern Vietnam.

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