Dong Tam case: Two sentenced to death in Vietnam over police killings

Workers putting up a wall around the airport at Dong Tam, Vietnam - pictures from Facebook

Two of the 29 accused in the case of a fatal land dispute in Vietnam have been sentenced to death.

The rest of those on trial were given sentences ranging from life imprisonment to 15 months suspended.

Police entered Dong Tam village in January to secure construction of a fence around land officials were trying to seize next to an airfield.

Violent resistance from villagers led to clashes that left three policeman and one retired local official dead.

The raid and the unexplained death of the popular local leader, 84-year-old Le Dinh Kinh, caused huge public controversy.

Land disputes are common in Vietnam, but rarely escalate into such conflict.

Police arrived in the village in January to help secure land seized by the defence ministry around the Mieu Mon airport, close to Dong Tam, as the army built a boundary fence.

The land was already subject to a dispute with villagers, who said they had not been properly recompensed for its seizure.

According to authorities, a group of residents led by Le Dinh Kinh violently resisted the police, and three officers – Col Nguyen Huy Thinh, Cpt Pham Cong Huy and Lt Duong Duc Hoang Quan – were set on fire and burned to death.

Le Dinh Kinh in image from Facebook
Le Dinh Kinh, a former government official, became a vocal opponent of the land grab

Mr Kinh was later shot dead by police, who said they encountered him holding a grenade. His son, Le Dinh Chuc, was injured in the raid. Deputy Minister Luong Tam Quang said police had seized petrol bombs, iron rods and other weapons.

Mr Kinh’s family and supporters disputed the official account. In the following days, three of Mr Kinh’s family appeared on TV with bruised faces, apparently admitting to possessing homemade weapons and petrol bombs. Rights groups said the confessions were forced, and Mr Kinh’s wife, Du Thi Thanh, said she was beaten by police.

The dispute began about three years ago when the Vietnamese military began work on an airport at Mieu Mon.

Residents complained that about 50 hectares (124 acres) of their land had been unfairly taken over and handed to Viettel Group, Vietnam’s military-run communications company.

A blocked street in Dong Tam village in 2017
Protests first came to a head in Dong Tam in 2017

All land in communist Vietnam is owned by the state, so the government can technically use what it wants for military or civilian purposes. But locals protested that they had not been properly compensated for the seized land, and resisted the attempt to take it.

The dispute first came to wider public attention in 2017, when four people were arrested for “disturbing public order” in protests against the land acquisition.

Villagers retaliated by holding 38 officials, including police officers, inside a community house for about a week. They were eventually released after the authorities agreed to some concessions.

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