By CHRIS BRUMMITT
HAIPHONG, Vietnam (AP) â¿¿ A court sentenced a family of four Vietnamese fish farmers to between two and five years in prison on Friday after finding them guilty of attempted murder for fighting back against a state eviction squad with homemade guns and land mines.
The men have been lauded on the Internet for defending their land in such spectacular fashion. Land grabs by corrupt officials are the leading source of public anger toward the one-party government in this autocratic Southeast Asian nation.
The sentences were less severe than they could have been given the seriousness of the charges. The government has been on the defensive because of the public sympathy toward the family. A month after the incident, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung ruled that the eviction was illegal, and ordered the officials who carried it out to be punished.
The man identified as the ringleader, Doan Van Vuon, showed no emotion as he was sentenced to five years in prison after a four-day trial in the northern city of Haiphong, close to the family's village. The 50-year-old former soldier had previously argued that the land mines and the gunfire were meant to warn the police and army-backed eviction crew to stay away from his family's land and fish ponds.
One of his brothers also received five years, and a third got 3 1/2 years. A nephew received a two-year term. Vuon's wife and a second female relative received suspended sentences for their roles in the standoff, during which seven police and army officers sustained minor injuries.
Members of the Vuon family say they were given the 41 hectares (101 acres) of land by authorities in 1993, when it was swampland that had been badly damaged by a typhoon. They transformed it into a fish and prawn business. In 2009, authorities said they wanted the land back without compensation. Since the prime minister's order declaring the eviction illegal, they have been allowed to keep the land.