|On patrol: Police and border guards visit remote villages to encourage locals to hand in their homemade shotguns.
|Check point: Villagers bring their guns to police, who also accept traps and other hunting objects. — VNS Photos Nguyen Chung
A resident in a remote commune in the central province of Thanh Hoa decided to put an end to illegal hunting to prevent people being shot by mistake. Nguyen Chung
and Thanh Binh
Witnessing the excruciating pain of families who lost loved ones through hunting accidents, Luong Van Khieu, a local security guard in a remote commune in the central province of Thanh Hoa, decided to try and put an end to illegal hunting and prevent fatalities.
His home in Son Dien Commune is one of six communes in Quan Son District that border Laos. It is home to more than 4,300 inhabitants, mainly from the Muong and Thai ethnic groups.
Local people have lived off the land for generations, and hunting is a common activity among the men, but late one moonless night, a hunter mistook his uncle for a small deer, and shot him dead.
This was not an isolated tragedy. In Bun Village, a young man mistakenly shot his own grandmother.
In the dim moonlight as he passed through a maize field, the hunter saw a silhouette move. Thinking it was a nocturnal animal, he opened fire without hesitation.
Seeing the "target" lying motionless, the young man ran up to collect his kill, but was shocked to find his grandmother.
Local people were once again shocked upon hearing the news that Vi Van Toan from Tam Thanh Commune had mistakenly shot a neighbour and killed him while hunting.
The death toll from hunting accidents continues to increase. According to Quan Son District police, 10 people have been killed and six others injured.
Khieu could see that the situation was only going to get worse, and started to formulate a plan to put an end to the tragedies. He made a list of all the people he knew in the area who owned firearms, and after establishing a task force with the help of local leaders, began persuading them to hand in their weapons.
They diligently visited each home to explain the dangers of using firearms, and tried to persuade owners to hand in their weapons to local authorities, but many were reluctant.
Khieu recalls a time when he and some communal policemen arrived at Luong Van Xai's house in the village to convince him to hand in his weapons.
The police knew that his family owned a hand-made gun and a hunting rifle, but Xai denied owning his precious hunting rifle, and only parted with the less valuable home-made weapon.
Khieu guessed Xai had hidden the rifle somewhere, so he told the local village chief, Vi Van Am, to invite Xai to his house to try to resolve the situation.
After a few rounds of rice wine, the village chief leisurely said to Xai: "I know you had to exchange a pair of cows for that imported rifle, and if you hand it in, it would be the same as losing two cows, so you hid the gun and then lied to the authorities, right?"
"You know I have your best interests at heart, so please bring the gun home and hand it over. It doesn't matter if we are hungry or not, we still need to be honest. The authorities have provided us with good maize seeds and taught us how to grow rice. They've even assisted in our children's education, so our villagers shouldn't tell lies!"
On that note, Am finished his drink, said goodnight, and went to bed. Early the next morning, Xai recovered his rifle from a hiding place in the forest and delivered it to his village chief.
Thanks to the patient work of Khieu's task force, villagers slowly started to realise that it was for their own safety.
The message spread, and weapons that had been hidden away were turned over to the authorities. Many brought their guns to Khieu.
Lieutenant Colonel Ngan Tien Hiep said the district had collected 1,725 weapons including six military guns, 22 hunting rifles and 1,697 shotguns of various design.
Son Dien Commune alone has collected nearly 300 guns under the amnesty, mostly shotguns as well as animal traps.
It is important that local people have abolished hunting, both for their safety and wide life conservation. The village has returned to a time of peace after people voluntarily handed over their guns.
Today, no one from Ban Village hunts because they know how to effectively cultivate the land and rear domestic animals. The landscape is littered with a patchwork of green maize fields, and terraced rice paddies cling to the mountainsides.
"Nobody goes hunting anymore, and all the guns and traps were handed over to the authorities," says village chief Am. "No more hunting accidents or fatalities. We have only been able to accomplish this thanks to Khieu's efforts, and his sympathy for the families of those it was too late to save." — VNS