HÀ NỘI — The public security ministry on Tuesday shed light on the circumstances surrounding the violent confrontation in Đồng Tâm Commune on the outskirts of Hà Nội that left three police officers and one protester dead in the early morning of January 9.
The protests revolved around the land area that was supposed to be reserved for Miếu Môn military airport project back in 1980, but the plan fizzled out and negligence in local authorities’ land management led to residents settling on the land over the following decades.
In 2014, when the Government wanted to reclaim the land – including 46ha of Đồng Tâm Commune – for military-run group Viettel to use for defence purposes, people there demanded clarification over where the defence land ends and where farmland begins.
Later in 2016, the tension became more heated up as land clearance commenced and four locals were arrested for disturbing public order in April 2017.
The arrests further fuelled the protests, then becoming more revolved around 82-year-old Lê Đình Kình, himself a Party member and former official, as well as a respected spiritual leader for the community and the protesters.
He later formed the so-called ‘consensus group’ – a hard-core group of protesters that resisted Government efforts to relocate, even though many households had already acquiesced to relocation.
Deputy Minister of Public Security Lieutenant General Lương Tam Quang, during a meeting with the press on Tuesday, said that the situation in Đồng Tâm worsened after the Government Inspectorate announced in their findings last year that all disputed land was for military purposes.
In early November 2019, the People’s Committee of Mỹ Đức District paid compensation to 14 households who had to move for the airport project. All 14 households agreed to move from the area in question, but members of the ‘consensus group’ exerted pressure to keep the households from relocating, even when the members did not have any claim to the land.
When the Government Inspectorate held a meeting with local residents to announce the results of the review on November 25, 2019, the ‘consensus group’ prevented residents from attending the event, caused disorder at the communal People’s Committee headquarters, and threatened those who spoke in support of the Government Inspectorate’s conclusion.
After the dialogue, the group of protesters prepared weapons, made plans to kidnap officials and set fire to the People’s Committee headquarters and the petrol station in Đồng Tâm Commune in order to attract attention to their cause.
Alerted to their intentions, the Hà Nội police prepared measures to ensure security and social order, which were approved by the Hà Nội People’s Committee and the Ministry of Public Security.
On December 31, 2019, the Defence Ministry started the construction of barrier walls around the planned section of Miếu Môn airport in three communes of Mỹ Đức and Chương Mỹ Districts. The construction was met with opposition from extremists in Hoành Village of Đồng Tâm Commune.
To deal with the situation, Hà Nội police coordinated with the Ministry of Public Security to set up positions to ensure safety for the communal People’s Committee headquarters and officials of the commune as well as other important areas.
“We didn’t enter the village to carry out arrests. There was no arrest warrant at the time, even though we were aware of their extremist nature, the public security force merely tried to uphold utmost security in all circumstances,” Quang said.
According to Deputy Minister Quang, when the public security force was setting up posts at the entrance of Hoành Village, around 20 persons attacked officers using grenades, petrol bombs and other weapons, and this is when the situation started to deteriorate.
The public security force at first tried to appeal for calm via loudspeakers, telling them to stop “going over the limit”.
The offenders refused to halt their attacks. They later withdrew into adjacent houses belonging to Lê Đình Kình, his son Lê Đình Chức and relative Lê Đình Hợi, and barricaded themselves in the property. They launched projectiles at the public security force from these locations.
The officers stormed the residence to arrest the attackers, and during the process, three officers – leader Colonel Nguyễn Huy Thịnh and two of his subordinates Captain Phạm Công Huy and Senior Lieutenant Dương Đức Hoàng Quân – fell into a 4m-deep hole behind Chức and Hợi’s house.
Kình's grandson Lê Đình Doanh and son Lê Đình Chức poured petrol and threw petrol bombs into the hole and set it on fire, killing the officers, according to the initial testimonies from the two men.
An arrested person of interest told the police that Kình said that the killing of these three police officers would certainly “cause them to withdraw”, referring to the rest of the public security force.
However, social media claims of protesters laying spikes and broken ceramics at the bottom of the hole in advance were “untrue”, Quang said.
The situation called for opening fire, Deputy Minister Quang said, adding that after half an hour, the public security force arrested more than 30 people and seized weapons and explosives at the scene. During the arrests, Lê Đình Kình was killed and his son Lê Đình Chức was injured, Quang said, adding that when officers entered his house, Kình was still holding a grenade in his hand.
Based on collected evidence, Hà Nội police issued a decision on Monday to start legal proceedings against 22 people involved in the fatal incident in Đồng Tâm on charges of murder, resisting officials in the line of duty and illegally storing weapons.
Quang said that the evidence showed that some hostile organisations and elements – both domestic and foreign – have provided support and guidance for the so-called ‘consensus group’ in making petrol bombs and buying materials to make weapons.
Some people, who proclaimed themselves representatives of people in Đồng Tâm Commune, raised money, with half of the donations going to Kình and his family members – members of the hard-core resistance group.
Deputy Minister Quang affirmed that the disturbance happened when the functional forces were building protective walls around the airport.
Responding to criticism from certain groups of academics and legal experts that this form of coercion conducted so close to Tết (Lunar New Year) – Việt Nam’s most important holiday and festival – is not appropriate, Quang stressed that this is not a case of forced reclamation of land, as the 14 households directly involved have already agreed to receive compensation and return the military land they lived on for years to the Government and defence ministry.
The use of force is "part of the efforts to build barrier walls and maintain security for the military airport,” he said.
Regarding questions concerning the deployment of forces at such an early hour, Quang said this is an unavoidable recourse that is totally in line with the law in order to suppress the violations and capture the offenders.
The Ministry of Public Security held a ceremony on Tuesday to call on the entire public security force to follow the brave example set by the three officers who died in the line of duty.
Deputy Minister of Public Security Lê Quý Vương said the death of the three officers during the disturbance is a great loss to the public security force and their families.
Party General Secretary, State President Nguyễn Phú Trọng signed a decision to grant the Feat of Arms Order, first class, and Prime Minister Nguyễn Xuân Phúc conferred the certificate of national merit to the three officers posthumously.
The Minister of Public Security has also granted promotion to the officers. — VNS