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Police arrest 7 farmers in land-use dispute in Vietnamese highlands

In the latest clash over land-use rights in Vietnam, police have detained seven residents in the Central Highlands for trying to prevent men from cutting down a farmer’s coffee and durian trees amid a contract dispute, residents said.

The five men had been sent to cut down the trees because the farmer, identified as Nguyen Thanh Giang, hadn’t given Thang Loi Coffee Joint Stock Co., the company he was leasing the land from, the amount of coffee beans stipulated in his contract. 

Since 2019, Giang had refused to hand over any beans due to bad weather and a plunge in coffee prices. After that, a court had ordered him to pay the company nearly 5,200 kilograms (11,500 pounds) of fresh beans as rent for the 2018-19 season. The farmer filed an appeal, but the appellate court upheld the earlier decision. 

In Vietnam, citizens must obtain permission from the government for use of land. If the state grants parcels of land to state-owned companies or other businesses, then local farmers are at their mercy.

Early Monday, after hearing the men sawing down the trees in the dark, neighbors helped Giang chase them away. They caught three of the men and held them near the Hoa Dong commune in Krong Dak district of Dak Lak province, a resident told RFA.

When word of the incident reached authorities in town, they sent 20 vans with up to 500 police officers to the scene to rescue the trio and arrest 25 people. 

After interrogations, police released 18 and sent the remaining seven to a temporary detention center, charging them with “resisting enforcement authorities” and “illegally holding people,” state media reported. 

Giang’s orchard had about 30,000 coffee trees and more than 100 durian trees, the latter of which would begin bearing fruit in 2023, the resident said. Giang later posted on his Facebook page that about two-thirds of the trees in his orchard had been chopped down.

More than 1,000 households in Hoa Dong commune now face similar situations because they all rent agricultural land. In 1998, the families bought trees on the leased land and began sharing ownership with Thang Loi Coffee which held a 51% stake, said the resident. 

 When Thang Loi changed its name and became a joint stock company, it forced the families who rented its land to buy company’s shares at preferential prices. But Giang and others did not purchase them because they believed the company’s move was not legal.

Disgruntles residents petitioned the President’s Office, which directed the Dak Lak People’s Committee to resolve the matter, though it has not been settled, the source said.

Hundreds of local households that have leased a total of 2,300 hectares (5,700 acres) of land from the company are at risk of losing all of their assets — coffee and durian trees, said the resident. 

RFA could not reach Do Hoang Phuc, chairman of the board of directors and general director of Thang Loi Coffee Joint Stock Company, for comment. Hoang Thi Thu Ha, deputy general director in charge of sales, declined to answer questions. RFA also could not reach Krong Pak Police for comment. 

Translated by Anna Vu for RFA Vietnam. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.