Vietnamese Farm Owner in Shooting Spree Over Compensation Dispute

A disgruntled farm owner went on a deadly shooting spree at a provincial land management office in northeastern Vietnam before killing himself, apparently in protest over inadequate compensation for his property acquired by the authorities for a development project, according to officials and neighbors.

Dang Ngoc Viet, 42, entered the land resources development center in Thai Binh City on Wednesday around 2:00 p.m. and opened fire, injuring four officials, including a senior center official who died later, according to the director of the local police.

Col. Tran Xuan Tuyet of the Thai Binh city police told reporters that Vu Ngoc Dung died while receiving medical attention at a nearby hospital.

The other three people injured in the attack remain hospitalized and are undergoing treatment.

Tuyet said that Viet’s body was discovered Wednesday evening at a pagoda in Tra Giang village, in Thai Binh province’s Kien Xuong district, and that he appeared to have committed suicide.

The official Voice of Vietnam radio program quoted an eyewitness to the attack as saying that Viet had entered the center and asked for its director, Pham Van Tu.

When Viet was told that Tu was not present, he determined that Dung was the center’s deputy and began to fire his weapon, the witness said.

Tuyet said that Viet might have resorted to the shooting over a compensation dispute after he received payment for his property that was taken over for a development project by officials in Thai Binh city.

A neighbor interviewed by RFA’s Vietnamese Service said Viet had been driven to the attack out of frustration over the compensation.

“[T]hey did not give him proper compensation,” said the neighbor, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“In fact [his] family had been living there for four generations … He was not happy with [the government] compensation and had sent a number of complaints but got no answer. That was why he took such drastic action.”

Compensation dispute

According to Tuyet, local officials had appropriated Viet’s rice farm as part of preparations for the construction of the Ky Ba residential project, which is expected to become a development showpiece in the center of downtown Thai Binh city.

The project—which will include high rise buildings, villas, schools, parks and a sports complex—will cover a total area of around 72,000 square meters (775,000 square feet) and require a total investment of 165 billion dong (U.S. $7.8 million). Around 95 percent of the land has already been cleared for construction.

Tuyet said that authorities in Thai Binh city had offered Viet land elsewhere, but that he had refused, so they gave him money as compensation instead.

The online newspaper VnExpress quoted Nguyen Hai Truong, head of the administrative office of the Thai Binh city local people’s committee as saying that Viet’s family was made to surrender more than 180 square meters (1,940 square feet) from around 220 square meters (2,370 square feet) of their property.

Truong said that the family had been promised 560 million dong (U.S. $26,600) in separate payments, but that after receiving around 500 million dong (U.S. $23,700), Viet had changed his mind and said that he wanted land instead of money as compensation.

“It is not correct to say that Viet was not happy because of the compensation amount,” the report quoted him as saying.

“The compensation price frame had been fixed, so there is no such thing as ‘too much’ or ‘too little.’ Besides, most of the people here had already accepted that compensation, so I don’t understand why Viet took such action,” he said.

The report also quoted Tu, the director of the Thai Binh land resources development center, as saying that while Viet had expressed frustration with the compensation agreement verbally, he had never submitted any official complaint.

Similar case

Land is owned by the state in one-party communist Vietnam and disputes are common as local officials frequently appropriate land for questionable projects they say will benefit the public.

Last year, in a high profile case, farmer Doan Van Vuon was hailed as a hero after he and his family put up an armed resistance against the seizure of his fish farm in Hai Phong by security forces.

He was sentenced in April this year to five years in jail for attempted murder after seven policemen were injured in the raid.

Shortly after Vuon was sentenced, a court in Hai Phong ordered a local official jailed for more than two years for destroying his property and handed out suspended sentences to four other officials for their roles in the forced eviction, in a rare admission of a botched government land seizure.

The authorities in Hai Phong have admitted their eviction was unlawful.

Following the shooting incident this week, Vuon’s wife Nguyen Thi Thuong said Viet’s case involved several similarities to that of her husband’s and blamed local authorities for driving the two men to desperation.

“It is injustice and unfair practices that push people into a corner and force them to react in such ways,” she said.

Vu Van Luan, secretary general of the Seafood Cultivation Association of Tien Lang—the district in which Vuon’s fish farm was located—said that without properly addressing the issue of property rights in Vietnam, the government was inviting additional confrontations between local authorities and land owners.

“I think this is a consequence that we all expected, meaning that, because they didn’t handle Vuon’s case appropriately, things will not stop here,” he said.

“People are very angry over Vuon’s case. It was not dealt with in accordance with our laws and justice system.”

Reported by Mac Lam and Gia Minh for RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.