A woman rides a motorcycle in an alley with loose rocks and logs placed by villagers inside the Dong Tam commune in My Duc District on Thursday on the outskirts of Hanoi. Farmers who took more than a dozen police and officials hostage over a land dispute said they would resist any rescue attempt by authorities. (AFP/Getty Images)

The mayor of Vietnam’s capital on Thursday urged villagers engaged in a land dispute with authorities to release the remaining 20 police officers and officials they’ve been holding since the weekend.

The state-run Tuoi Tre newspaper quoted Nguyen Duc Chung as telling local officials to persuade the residents to remove barricades erected around Dong Tam village in My Duc District on the outskirts of Hanoi.

The standoff began Saturday when police clashed with villagers who say their farmland was taken illegally for sale by a military-run telecommunications firm. Nine villagers were arrested and accused of disturbing public order but were later released.

The villagers held 38 officials and police officers at a community house, but they later released 15 riot police, while three others managed to escape.

“I will ask the villagers to soon release those who are being held,” Chung said, trying to assure the village that authorities won’t use force to end the standoff. “The cadres are to protect people, not to suppress them. They are like you brothers and children, so they should soon be released.”

He said the remaining officials and police officers were treated well.

The talks were planned for Thursday, but the villagers and authorities could not agree on where to hold the meeting.

Chung said that he wanted to meet village representatives as soon as Friday.

At the center of the dispute are 145 acres of land that had been reserved for a military airfield but part of which was given to the military-run telecom company Viettel two years ago to develop a military project.

The villagers insist the land is theirs, while authorities say it belongs to the military and was illegally occupied by residents.

Chung said authorities decided to conduct a comprehensive inspection of the land to determine who owns it. The finding will be announced within 45 days, he said.

Pending the decision, Viettel will temporarily suspend work on the project, he said.

Land disputes are common in Vietnam, where residents often say their land was taken for infrastructure or other industrial or residential projects and they were not properly compensated.

Associated Press