Daily Archives: February 12, 2012

Vietnam farmer a hero after shootout with police

In this photo taken Feb. 4, 2012, Nguyen Thi Thuong stands by the ruins of her house in Tien Lang District, northern city of Haiphong, Vietnam. On Jan. 5, Thuong returned home from dropping her kids off at school to find a mob of armed police in riot gear surrounding her farm house. Thuong knew authorities were there to forcibly throw the family off the land they had leased for fish farming but her husband, Doan Van Vuon, wasn’t leaving without a fight. In a guerrilla-style ambush reminiscent of a Vietnam War battle, family members laid homemade land mines around the house and fired on the advancing forces with improvised shotguns, wounding six police officers and soldiers. (AP Photo/VnExpress, Nguyen Hung)

MSNBC | Feb 10, 2012


HANOI, Vietnam — When local police arrived in riot gear to evict the Vuon clan, family members were ready with homemade land mines and improvised shotguns. In a guerrilla-style ambush reminiscent of a Vietnam War battle, they wounded six officers.

But instead of drawing public condemnation, last month’s rare violence by fish farmers trying to hold onto leased land in the northern port city of Hai Phong has made a national hero of family ringleader Doan Van Vuon and ripped open a debate about heavy-handed seizures by local governments.

Though Vuon and three of his kin remain under arrest for their role in the attack, retired military generals and a former president have weighed in on his behalf.

The case has attracted so much attention that Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung ordered an investigation, ruling Friday that the eviction was illegal and those who ordered it should be punished. He also encouraged local authorities to renew the family’s land lease.

Many Vietnamese see Vuon as a symbol of the country’s millions of farmers, many of whom are fed up with losing property or anxious about how new land rights laws will affect them as the government debates 20-year land grants that are due to expire next year.

Vuon stands accused of organizing the attack and trying to kill police, but state-run media have openly sympathized with him in investigative reports. Their dispatches have alleged that Hai Phong officials lied about details of the eviction. They also have said the family was cheated in 1993 when they were given a lease of only 14 years instead of what should have been 20 years.

Nguyen Thi Thuong, Vuon’s wife, remembers returning home from dropping her kids at school on Jan. 5 to find a mob of armed police in riot gear surrounding her farm house. She heard gunfire and explosions erupt before ambulances rushed in and medical workers began carrying wounded officers out on stretchers.

“Our family was cornered,” Thuong told The Associated Press by telephone. “We put all our efforts and money into our farm, but the authorities evicted us without compensation. It’s very unjust.”

Even before the standoff, Vuon’s neighbors considered him a local celebrity.

The college-educated agricultural engineer spent 18 years and his life’s savings turning 40 hectares (99 acres) of useless coastal swampland into a viable aquaculture farm. His daughter and nephew drowned in the process, but he pushed on and eventually built dykes capable of protecting the coastline from tropical storms.

Vuon, 49, had long been at odds with local authorities, and some legal experts say his 14-year grant agreement was illegal from the start. State media have reported that the surrounding area was slated to be developed for housing and an international airport.

Vuon and fellow farmer Vu Van Luan filed a lawsuit in 2009 challenging the proposed land seizure. Luan said the court had agreed to let them stay if they dropped the suit. But when they did so, the eviction order went ahead anyway.

That’s when Vuon allegedly planned the attack on more than 100 police and soldiers. According to media reports, he was not at the scene when the violence erupted. The farmer and several members of his family are now under investigation for assault or attempted murder.

After the raid, two houses on the family’s land were burned and bulldozed, forcing Vuon’s wife to take shelter under a plastic tarp. Local officials first took responsibility for the destruction, but later denied involvement — fueling rage among many following the case nationwide who have vented their frustration online.

In Vietnam all land belongs to the state, but sweeping economic reforms in the 1980s led to the 1993 land law that offered conditional 20-year land grants to many farmers. Legal experts say those leases will likely be extended when they expire next year, ensuring farmers quasi-private usage rights. However, other questions hover over clauses in Vietnamese law that allow authorities to seize land for national security or defense, economic development or the public interest.

In some cases, that translates into highways or industrial parks that bring jobs to the poor. But in an increasing number of cases, it means grabbing fish farms or rice paddies for swanky golf courses and resorts only accessible to the rich.

Most farmers accept compensation and move on, but a growing number have been resisting by filing lawsuits, holding protests or, in rare cases, battling police with sticks, stones or weapons. Millions of Vietnam’s poorest workers struggle to make ends meet as the communist country battles Asia’s highest inflation rate.

Farmers are typically compensated according to the land’s agricultural value, not the amount developers pay. As property values climb and financial stakes increase, land rights disputes are growing “increasingly public and angry,” said Mark Sidel, a law professor at the University of Wisconsin who consults on legal reform in Vietnam.

With popular frustration mounting against “rapacious developers and their allies in local governments,” he added, “Hanoi deals with these disputes with some care.”

And while Vuon’s case alone will likely not push the country into making sweeping changes to its land laws, it also cannot be ignored, especially since more than 70 percent of the country’s 87 million people still live in the countryside.

“Land issues affect the party’s legitimacy because they pit the local power structure against farmers on a playing field that is tilted in favor of the former,” said Carlyle Thayer, a Vietnam expert at the Australian Defense Force Academy in Canberra.

In the Hai Phong case, Vuon’s struggle has won favor with some who see indiscriminate land seizure as a symbol of greed and corruption. A Hanoi-based blogger has raised about 223 million dong ($10,600) for the family’s legal fees, and former President Le Duc Anh has lauded Vuon as a model citizen.

“He should be encouraged, but instead he was evicted,” Anh told Giao Duc (Education) newspaper on Tuesday. “It’s so merciless.”

Vuon’s neighbors now worry they might be next to lose their farms. Prior to the attack in their sleepy seaside fishing community, they had planned to erect a statue in honor of the man who reclaimed swampland and tamed threats that wind and waves once posed to their coastline.

“The villagers considered him a hero,” said Luan, who filed the lawsuit with Vuon.

But now that Vuon is in jail for attempted murder, their plans for the monument have been put on hold.

LAPD Pioneers High-Tech Crime-Fighting ‘War Room’

CBS | Feb 8, 2012

LOS ANGELES (CBS) — The LAPD is fighting crime from a high-tech war room that gives it eyes all over the city. The surveillance hub is now a model for police forces around the world and KCAL9 got an exclusive tour inside from Chief Charlie Beck.

“We are targets on our own soil,” says Beck. “We have to be ready.”

What began as a grass roots idea following the 9/11 terrorist attacks is now a state-of-the-art real-time analysis critical response center. It’s called RACR, and it’s located in the heart of downtown Los Angeles.

“This is a system that cuts through the red tape, that gets information to the people that need it,” says Chief Beck. He calls it “the brains of the department, twenty-four/seven.”

Police in the activity center monitor live feeds of city and traffic cameras, counter-terrorism information, and real-time crime mapping, with cutting edge software.

“If we didn’t have that we would be operating blind,” says Capt. Sean Malinowski, the Commanding Officer at RACR. “Essentially we’re always activated here.”

RACR is a critical crime-fighting tool at the center of every high profile incident in the City of Los Angeles.

“We have some real-time tools that help us analyze crime as it’s happening,” says Malinowski. “And then we feed that information out to the geographic areas and to patrol divisions.”

RACR is relied upon during events like dignitary visits from the Royals and President Obama, as well as the recent Occupy LA showdown and arrests.

“We had eyes on that, both through video cameras that the city owns, and also through video streams that were provided by the actual Occupy LA protesters,” says Malinowski.

Most recently, RACR was invaluable in putting an end to the Hollywood arsons.

Malinowski says RACR plotted each arson fire incident as it happened, creating a three-square-mile geographic hot spot that resulted in the quick arrest of accused fire starter Harry Burkhart.

“At the time he was taken into custody, this area was flooded with sheriffs and with LAPD officers,” says Malinowski. “Based on the fact that we kind of could see his movements in real time.”

RACR was born in a functioning bomb shelter, four stories below the Los Angeles Civic Center.

LAPD Commander Blake Chow remembers a time when tracking crime at RACR was done by hand. “There was very little technology,” says Chow, and RACR had no budget.

Police operated with dry erase boards, personal computers, and simple monitors.

“When we built RACR, there was no template to look at,” says Chow. “There was no police department we could go look at and ask them, ‘how did you build it?’”

Today LAPD’s RACR is the standard operating model for law enforcement agencies worldwide. It’s used as a guidebook on how to protect communities and fight crime.

Marines ‘assault’ US beaches with foreign troops in amphibious drill

A member of the French Foreign Legion directs French military traffic down the beach (AFP, Paul J. Richards)

AFP | Feb 11, 2012

By Paul Richards

CAMP LEJEUNE, North Carolina — With beach landings, 25 naval ships and an air assault, the United States and eight other countries are staging a major amphibious exercise on the US East Coast this week, fighting a fictional enemy that bears more than a passing resemblance to Iran.

After a decade dominated by ground wars against insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan, the drill dubbed Bold Alligator is “the largest amphibious exercise conducted by the fleet in the last 10 years,” said Admiral John Harvey, head of US Fleet Forces Command.

About 20,000 US forces, plus hundreds of British, Dutch and French troops as well as liaison officers from Italy, Spain, New Zealand and Australia are taking part in the exercise along the Atlantic coast off Virginia and North Carolina.

An American aircraft carrier, amphibious assault ships including France’s Mistral, Canadian mine sweepers and dozens of aircraft have been deployed for the drill, which began on January 30 and runs through mid-February.


Thousands of Marines storm U.S. beaches as Operation Bold Alligator sees biggest amphibious landing for a decade

Monday was “D-day” for Bold Alligator, with US Marines stepping on to the beach from hovercraft, near the Camp Lejeune base in North Carolina.

The American military, mindful that Marines have spent most of their time in the deserts of Iraq and the mountains of Afghanistan since 2001, said the goal was “to revitalize, refine, and strengthen fundamental amphibious capabilities and reinforce the Navy and Marine Corps role as ‘fighters from the sea.'”

With defense spending coming under pressure after years of unlimited growth, the Marines — which devoted a brigade to the exercise — also are anxious to protect funding for their traditional role as an amphibious force.

The exercise scenario takes place in a mythical region known as “Treasure Coast,” with a country called Garnet, a theocracy, invading its neighbor to the north, Amberland, which calls for international help to repel the attack.

Garnet has mined several harbors and deployed anti-ship missiles along the coast.

The threat of mines, anti-ship missiles and small boats in coastal waters conjure up Iran’s naval forces, but the commanders overseeing the drill, Admiral Harvey and Marine Lieutenant General Dennis Hejlik, say the scenario is not based on any particular country.

Amid rising tensions with Iran and threats from Tehran to close the strategic Strait of Hormuz, naval officers and military planners are keenly aware of the Islamic Republic’s arsenal of mines and anti-ship missiles.

When asked by reporters last week, Harvey acknowledged that the exercise scenario was “certainly informed by recent history” and that it was “applicable” to the Strait of Hormuz, as well as other areas.

Harvey also said the exercise incorporated lessons from the 2006 Lebanon conflict, when Iran-backed Hezbollah forces hit an Israeli navy corvette with an anti-ship missile.

The Pentagon opened the drill to allied forces for the first time this year, with 650 French troops among those participating.

In their AMX-10 wheeled reconnaissance vehicles and VAB armored personnel carriers, the mission of the French forces was “to land first to secure a path for the Americans,” said Second Lieutenant Chens Bouriche, a French military spokesman.