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Around 20 Vietnamese police swarmed the home on Thursday of an elderly community leader killed last month during land protests in Hanoi’s Dong Tam commune, frightening the man’s elderly widow and causing her to faint and collapse, a local activist told RFA’s Vietnamese Service.

Du Thi Thanh, widow of Le Dinh Kinh, at first refused to allow police to search her home despite their demands that she agree to let them in, land rights activist Trinh Ba Phuong told RFA’s Vietnamese Service on Feb. 20.

“They then forced her to sign a paper acknowledging that she had refused to cooperate,” said Trinh, who had met a few days earlier with a U.S. embassy representative in Hanoi to report on the clash at Dong Tam.

“She was so shocked by their angry shouts and demands that her blood pressure shot up, and she fainted,” Trinh said, adding that moments after Du collapsed, a nurse gave her an injection.

Police were then forced to leave her house when a crowd began to gather, Trinh said.

Attempts to reach Du’s niece and a neighbor by phone for comment were unsuccessful on Thursday.

Du’s husband Le Dinh Kinh, 84, was shot and killed on Jan. 9 by police who attacked his home in Dong Tam’s Hoanh village in a 4:00 a.m. assault that involved about 3,000 security officers from the police and armed forces.

Though official reports said that villagers had assaulted police with grenades and petrol bombs, a report drawn from witness accounts and released seven days later by journalists and activists said that police had attacked first during the deadly clash that also claimed the lives of three police officers.

Police blocked off pathways and alleys during the attack and beat villagers “indiscriminately, including women and old people,” the report says, calling the assault “possibly the bloodiest land dispute in Vietnam in the last ten years.”

Long-running dispute

The Dong Tam tragedy was the latest flare-up of a long-running dispute over a military airport construction site about 25 miles south of Vietnam’s capital Hanoi.

In April 2017, police arrested several farmers for allegedly causing “social unrest” during a clash between authorities and Dong Tam residents over the 47 hectares of commune land taken by the government for military use.

Other farmers then responded to the arrests by detaining 38 police officers and local officials, threatening to kill them if police moved against them.

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

Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Huynh Le. Written in English by Richard Finney.