In Huê, police burn woods, plant new trees to seize the land owned by the Thiên An Monastery
by Joseph Ngoc Linh

On 7 July, at least 5 hectares of woodland were destroyed. Police, foresters and thugs videotaped the disaster and then set to plant new trees to claim the land. A police captain from Thủy Bằng is behind the operations of deforestation and reforestation.

Hanoi (AsiaNews) – Police and hired thugs have burnt down more than 5 hectares of pine forest on land owned by the Thiên An Monastery. Their goal is to drive out the monks and seize the land.

For at least 20 years, local authorities have been trying to illegally confiscate the monastery's land in order to develop a tourist resort run by a travel company.

There have been five arson attacks since 4 March 2018 in an area of 107 hectares. The latest, on 7 July, was the worst. The fire came close to the monastery’s bell tower and pastoral meeting room.

The monks report that every time there is n incident, "police and thugs from Thủy Bằng and the city of Hương Thủy” appear within five minutes “along with plainclothes policemen taking pictures and filming.”

The latter are quite open about what they are doing. "The method we use, burning the forest, is a bit strong, but it brings a lot of ' results," said Thủy Bằng officials and Tiền Phong Forest Enterprise employees. "It's a little tiring, but fast,” added Mr Phương, president of the National Front in Thủy Bằng.

A parishioner spoke to AsiaNews explaining the government’s modus operandi. "After they set the fire, they come to plant new trees. Their intention is to get the land from the monastery, bit by bit, claiming ownership of the planted trees.

“Police, foresters, and employees of the Tiền Phong Forestry Enterprise of Hue arrived along with thugs,” said one the monk. “They offered to pay 200,000 dongs (about US$ 8.5), to come into the monastery to plant saplings. We told them that this is against the law, but they refuse to listen. Sometimes they send hooligans to threaten or instill fear in us."

“Every time a fire is set, there is always a police captain from Thủy Bằng involved,” the monk added. “A Mr D T H.  He is the one organising the whole thing. "

In June 2017, using metal saws, crowbars and poles they took down a cross and beat the monks and several faithful who had come to the defence of the monks.

The latter are powerless because the authorities in Huê and the police offer no help and do not enforce the law.