Activists campaigning to save Hanoi’s famous old trees from the government axe are claiming victory – up to a point – following an admission of mistakes by the city government.
A statement on July 21 from the Hanoi People’s Committee acknowledged “deficiencies” in the tree felling programme and listed ten officials who had been demoted, dismissed or given warnings.
The activists, who risked detention, assault and threats for organising a series of rare street protests, said the named officials were scapegoats. But they said any acknowledgement of mistakes by a government body was progress.
“We think this is a real victory, but we will not stop our campaign until we get real accountability,” said one of the founders of the “For A Green Hanoi” campaign, Nguyen Anh Tuan.
Some five hundred old mahoganies and other large trees were felled in a campaign described by the government as one of “overhaul and replacement”.
The plan to chop down more than 6000 trees was suspended in April amid mounting protests on the streets and online.
Nearly ten thousand people signed up to a Facebook campaign to defend the city’s trees, many of which were planted in the days of French colonial rule.
Up to two hundred people braved threats and in some cases physical assault to take part in a series of rallies that culminated in April.
At the final rally some 21 protesters were roughly bundled into a police bus and taken away for hours of questioning.
The campaigners say there has been no credible explanation as to why the trees were chopped down in the first place.
In the only meeting between the two sides, officials said they had no duty to answer such questions from ordinary citizens with no stake in the programme.
“The authorities want to settle this problem as soon as possible and move on,” said Mr Tuan.
He said they had not acknowledged the plan itself was wrong only its implementation and the handling of what officials described as “propaganda” to win public support.
Mr Tuan said pressures from branches of the national government had also forced the Hanoi authorities to acknowledge their mistakes.
The old trees, many dating from the French colonial period, have been replaced by thin saplings – many of which have withered and died in the summer heat.
In its statement the Hanoi People’s Committee criticised itself and said it had “gained experience in its leading, directing, governing work.”
It said that the Vice Chairman of the Committee, Nguyen Quoc Hung, had “earnestly claimed responsibility before the Committee on the weaknesses and wrongdoings.”