Hanoi mayor urges villagers to release police hostages

HANOI, Vietnam (AP) - The mayor of Vietnam's capital on Thursday urged villagers engaged in a land dispute with authorities to release the remaining 20 police and officials they've been holding since the weekend.

The state-run Tuoi Tre newspaper quoted Nguyen Duc Chung as telling local officials to persuade the residents to remove barricades erected around Dong Tam village in My Duc District on the outskirts of Hanoi.

The standoff began Saturday when police clashed with villagers who say their farmland was taken illegally for sale by a military-run telecoms firm. Nine villagers were arrested for disturbing public order but were later released.

The villagers held 38 officials and police at a community house, but later released 15 riot police while three others managed to escape.

"I will ask the villagers to soon release those who are being held," Chung said, trying to assure the village that authorities won't use force to end the standoff. "The cadres are to protect people, not to suppress them. They are like you brothers and children, so they should soon be released."

He said the remaining officials and police were treated well.

The talks were planned for Thursday but the villagers and authorities could not agree on the venue of the meeting.

Chung said that he wanted to meet village representatives as soon as Friday.

At the center of the dispute is 59 hectares (145 acres) of land, which had been reserved for a military airfield but part of which was given to the military-run telecoms company Viettel two years ago to develop a military project.

The villagers insist the land is theirs, while authorities say it belongs to the military and was illegally occupied by residents.

Chung said authorities decided to conduct a comprehensive inspection of the land to determine who owns it. The finding will be announced within 45 days, he said.

Pending the decision, Viettel will temporarily suspend work on the project, he said.

Land disputes are common in Vietnam, where residents often say their land was taken for infrastructure or other industrial or residential projects and they were not properly compensated.

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