The protesters' weapons seized after the clash. VNA/VNS Photo
HÀ NỘI — Hà Nội police on Friday launched criminal proceedings after a clash with protesters that resulted in the deaths of four, including three police officers.
The police would investigate charges of murder, illegal storage and use of weapons and obstructing authorities in the line of duty, announced the city police department.
The fatal confrontation occurred early morning Thursday, when a group of villagers attacked soldiers building a wall at military airport Miếu Môn in Đồng Tâm Commune, Mỹ Đức District, outside of Hà Nội, according to a statement on the website of the Ministry of Public Security (MoPS).
The protesters were reported to have thrown hand grenades, petrol bombs and knives at soldiers and police officers protecting the construction site.
The clash ended with three police officers and one of the protesters killed, while another protester was injured, the ministry said.
MoPS Chief of Staff and spokesperson, Major General Tô Ân Xô told Vietnam News Agency on Friday that the police conducted a thorough search of the scene following the incident and seized a number of weapons kept by the protesters. They included eight hand grenades, 38 homemade petrol bombs, 12 iron pipes with knives attached to the end, a sword and a stun gun.
Footage on VTV on Thursday showed petrol bombs thrown from houses towards public order and mobile officers despite repeated warnings issued by police on a loudspeaker asking the protesters to surrender.
“Give yourselves up! Don’t act beyond limits,” the voice on the loudspeaker said.
According to the ministry’s statement, the police have arrested “those who caused serious offences” though did not elaborate on the exact number of those taken into custody.
Hà Nội Criminal Police Division chief, Colonel Nguyễn Bình told VTV that the protesters that attacked the police on Thursday were the same group of around 30 who have disrupted public disorder at Đồng Tâm Commune continuously over the last two years.
He added that all the protesters in question were arrested after the incident.
The MoPS in its statement did not specify the protesters’ objections that led to the tragic confrontation, but Miếu Môn Airport is known to be at the heart of a prolonged land dispute in Đồng Tâm.
Tensions have been simmering in the commune since late 2016, when the Ministry of National Defence wanted to take back dozens of hectares of military-owned land from the villagers, who had already set up their homes and livelihood on the land area in question for years. The residents protested against the move, claiming the land was not for military but agricultural purposes.
The villagers held 38 Mỹ Đức District officials and policemen hostage on April 15, 2017, after four residents were detained for disrupting public order in connection to the land dispute.
The hostages were safely released after Hà Nội People’s Committee chairman Nguyễn Đức Chung held talks with the villagers directly, promising that the city would look into their land claims.
An inspection by Hà Nội in July 2017 and another separate one by the Government inspectors in April 2019 both pointed out that all disputed land, which was a part of the Miếu Môn Airport area, was owned by the military and would be used for military purposes.
After the conclusions of two inspections were made public to the Đồng Tâm villagers, the Ministry of National Defence started construction on the 1,000m-long wall around the airport on December 31, 2019.
Police surround the village after the clash. — VNA/VNS Photo
Thursday’s fatal confrontation shocked the entire country as it was extremely rare in Việt Nam for a clash between police and civilians to end in bloodshed.
“We’ve got conclusions from both the city and the Government on the Đồng Tâm dispute. If there’s still something wrong, people should file complaints and work together with the officials to sort it out,” resident Phan Văn Độ in Cầu Giấy District said.
“It’s better than letting heartbreaking incidents like this happen.”
MoPS spokesman Xô said that the ministry ordered Hà Nội police to work closely with the city People’s Procuracy to carry on with legal proceedings and gather concrete evidence to wrap up the investigation as soon as possible.
“Security and public order in Đồng Tâm has basically been re-established and all activities of the residents have returned to normal,” he said.
“Construction of the Miếu Môn Airport’s wall is ongoing as scheduled.” — VNS