Vietnamese fishermen protest project blocking access to the sea

A fishing community in central Vietnam is uniting to oppose a container port after police and workers for the development injured several fishermen who were rallying against the project.

Hundreds of residents of the Binh Thuan commune in Quang Ngai province’s Binh Son district gathered on Dec. 17 to block National Highway 1A to demand the release of fishermen arrested earlier in the day for protesting construction of the port.

Project developers and provincial police had attacked protesters, leaving many seriously injured, said one woman named Nguyen Thi Be. She had tried to go fishing that morning but found her way cut off, she said.

“When I asked why we had to leave, they said we were no longer allowed to stay here, as they needed to start building the port,” said Be, whose name has been changed to protect her from retaliation by authorities.

“Other fishermen then gathered in large numbers and began to shout to oppose the construction, saying that we had to earn a living and that if the company was going to take the sea away from us, they would have to give us something else to live on.”

Project workers and police then attacked the crowd, Be said.

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“One person’s teeth were broken, and some others suffered broken arms and scratches on their faces from all the beating and shoving. One of my arms was broken too. We are very angry,” she said.

Project developer the Hoa Phat Group was awarded approval in June 2019 to build the port in a U.S. $169 million project that has offered local fishing families compensation described by many as unequally distributed, leading to area protests.

“For most of us, our livelihood depends on fishing, and when the Hoa Phat Company began to encroach more and more on the sea, local people began to ask for compensation,” said one local resident surnamed Trung.

“But the company called it financial support instead of compensation, and when providing the support they made it unequal and unfair,” he said. “People therefore got upset and began to block work on the project, with many setting up tents on the construction site in protest.”

Asked whether local authorities are supporting residents’ demands for better support, Nguyen Thi Be replied that commune officials said that residents should allow the company to proceed with its work, and that the company would gradually meet their demands.

“However, the company hasn’t done this, and so we have lost our confidence in the commune authorities,” she said.

RFA called the Binh Son District People’s Committee for comment on the case, but staff members refused to provide contact numbers for committee officials.

While all land in Vietnam is ultimately held by the state, land confiscations have become a flashpoint as residents accuse the government of pushing them aside in favor of lucrative real estate projects, and of paying too little in compensation.

Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Anna Vu. Written in English by Richard Finney.

Artmotion Asia

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