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Disabled War Veterans in Vietnam Protest Land Seizure

A support group for seriously wounded Vietnamese war veterans is resisting a government decision to take away their land in central Hanoi. Land disputes are increasing in Vietnam as urban property values rise.

Several dozen middle-aged veterans in khaki uniforms occupy a small empty lot in a central neighborhood of Hanoi.

They are surrounded by an equal number of police in red, white and blue jeeps.

The veterans, many with missing limbs, are members of the July 27 War Invalids Collective. Since 1996 they have used this plot for the three-wheeled motorized vehicles the government allows them to drive.

Now, the local People's Committee wants to give the land to a parking lot company. But war veteran Nguyen Nhu Khoa, who suffered brain and spine injuries during the 1972 Battle of Hue, said they are not leaving.

Khoa says the People's Committee's decision was unacceptable. He says the nation's ancestors said that the leaves that are whole should embrace the torn ones. Khoa says the People's Committee should ask themselves whether they are acting as the ancestors taught.

Land disputes like this one are increasingly common as Hanoi undergoes a massive construction boom.

High-rises are going up around the city, and real estate prices in central Hanoi run to thousands of dollars per square meter.

Khoa said the disabled veterans need this land to earn a living.

Khoa says each veteran receives a pension of up to $90 per month, not enough to support their families.

They used to use their three-wheeled vehicles as miniature moving vans. But last year, the Hanoi Transportation Department stopped that, saying the vehicles were unsafe.

The veterans decided to start a business washing cars and motorbikes, said disabled war veteran Do Dac Vinh.

Vinh says they invested to buy sand and improve the property.

When they heard the land was being taken away, they appealed to the People's Committee.

But in a January 8 decision, the People's Committee said it could do nothing, because the land belonged to the Transportation Department.

Government officials were not available to comment on the case. But the disabled veterans do not have an official Land Use Certificate, meaning they do not have legal title to the site.

Veteran Nguyen Van Hai, injured in Vietnam's 1978 war in Cambodia, said the real problem was that the group could not bribe officials.

We are people who have fought for the country, Hai says, and he says he and his fellow veterans find it unacceptable to bribe someone. We each have lost half our body, he says, and he says the veterans have no money for bribes.

A 300 square meter plot in central Hanoi is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Without money, the wounded veterans will have a hard time holding on to it.