Van Quoc Quang had lived in a house in an area of Ho Chi Minh City for nearly 40 years when authorities told him he would have to move to make way for a canal development project. They promised him he would be compensated for the inconvenience.
But payment never came, and on the evening of Jan. 31, as he stood cursing loudly outside his former house on Bai Say Road in the city’s Sixth District, Van Quoc Quang, 47, doused himself with gasoline and set himself on fire, residents said.
Though the incident was not reported by state media, a video posted on Facebook showed Quang’s body burning as neighbors rushed to get water to extinguish the fire.
Police and staff members from the Ward No. 1 People’s Committee took Quang to the hospital, but he died the next morning, his family said.
The afternoon of the incident, Quang had gone to the committee and argued with the staff over compensation for the project’s land clearance order, the family said.
Quang, who suffered from mental illness, had himself dismantled his 68-square-meter (732-square-foot) house in November last year after committee staff told him he would lose everything and be unable to even sell the wreckage if he fought the order to move, his family said.
At the time, the staff also said they would provide financial assistance to him, they said.
When he received neither compensation nor financial assistance, Quang decided to stay on his land even after he had taken his house apart, relatives said.
The canal project’s land clearance management board said Quang had not received any compensation because the house in which he had lived for about 40 years was involved in some murky dispute.
But his family said the board did not tell them the basis of the disagreement or even who the other party was.
Tran Kieu Mong Sanh, chief of police in ward No. 1, refused to answer RFA’s questions about the incident.
RFA could not reach Le Thi Thanh Thao, chairwoman of the Sixth District, for comment.
A November 2021 article in Zing, an online newspaper, said that about 160 out of 474 households in the area marked for the canal project had refused to accept the compensation offered.
Many of the occupants depend on the nearby Binh Tay Market to do business and they feared they would lose their livelihoods in addition to their homes in a relocation, the article said.
Many residents have instead chosen to live in semi-demolished houses on smelly plots of land near the existing canal full of waste.
After Quang’s death, a second video surfaced online showing his body being placed in a coffin as police and officials in medical protection suits put up a barrier to block the alley where he once lived.
While all land in Vietnam is ultimately held by the state, land confiscations have become a flashpoint for violent confrontations as residents accuse the government of pushing small landholders aside in favor of lucrative real estate projects, and of paying too little in compensation to families displaced by development.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Anna Vu. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.