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Vietnamese Vigilantes Use Slingshots to Protect Mekong Delta Rivers Against Sand Thieves

Every afternoon on Doi Islet in Ben Tre Province, a renowned group of vigilantes patrol the Tien River for illegal sand dredgers.

VnExpress reported on the group, made up of 13 people, including three women, who use rubber catapults, rocks and sharpened bamboo sticks to protect the area from dredging groups.

The oldest member of the team, Ho Thi Be, 68, encouraged her 36-year-old daughter, Tran Thi Tuyet Nhung, to join them, according to the news source. Dao Thi Hong Thu, 54, another female member of the group, is considered the toughest woman involved. “One time we were chasing a thief’s boat,” Thu said, before adding that she “broke the boat light with a shot” from her slingshot.

Team leader Nguyen Van Lai, aged 67, is the most experienced in dealing with sand thieves. He once survived being blasted into the river by sand thieves’ water cannons, and on another occasion discovered grenades placed by his house.

“There have been countless times when the sand thieves threw stones at us, bruising our heads. Our patrolling boat was stolen at night,” Lai told VnExpress.

Sand is taken from riverbanks to provide construction materials for building projects across Vietnam, and is sometimes even sold to Singapore, according to National Geographic. Illegal dredgers can make as much as US$13,000 per month.

In 2016, 3,000 people across Vietnam were caught extracting sand without permits or in protected areas. In 2017, 737 areas were reported to have been illegally dredged for sand.

Locals of Doi islet asserted that serious erosion and landslides have occurred over the last seven years, reports VnExpress. Stone embankments that have been created as a countermeasure and cost each household VND50 million (US$2,150) are destined to fail if the dredging continues.

Le Van Minh, Head of the Environmental Crime Prevention Division of the Ben Tre Police Department, claimed that 650 illegal sand mining vessels were detected in 2018, double the number of 2017.

In the past year, the vigilantes have joined the police to capture 10 barges, each generally containing 50–100 cubic meters of illegally mined sand. Once, they handed a barge to officials containing as much as 1,000 tons of the material, reported Cong Luan.

“Recently this team has supported the police a lot in managing the illegal sand dredging situation in the area. We plan to keep it functional, as well as encourage locals to donate so that members will be better equipped,” said Tran Hoang Liem, Chairman of the Tan Phu Commune People’s Committee in Ben Tre.

“We recently viewed their activities and have proposed multiplication of the model,” Nguyen Thi Quynh, Deputy Chairwoman of the Chau Thanh District People’s Committee, told VnExpress.

[Photo via VnExpress/Hoang Nam]


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