Tam Dao bear rescue center and “national security”
VietNamNet Bridge - "If the relocation becomes a reality, I’m afraid that the trust of foreign institutions and investors in the Vietnamese government will be affected," said Mr. Tuan Bendixsen, chief representative of the Animal Asia Foundation (AAF) in Vietnam, in an interview with VietNamNet about the decision to relocate the Tam Dao Bear Rescue Center.

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As a representative of the AAF, could you give us official information?

Mr. Tuan Bendixsen, Photo: AAF

The Vietnam Bear Rescue Center Project was kicked off in 2006, approved by the Prime Minister in 2008. According to the original agreement between the AAF, the sponsor for this project, and the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) - the Vietnamese partner in this project, the MARD offers 12ha of land in Chat Dau Valley, in the buffer zone of Tam Dao National Park to the project. The AAF is responsible for providing fund. The two sides pledged to maintain the center for at least 20 years.

This is a non-profit project. In the process of obtaining the grounds, the center had to pay over VND4 billion ($200,000) for eight households living in the area to relocate. Members of these households are now working for the center. Under the agreement, the MARD is responsible for site clearance, but the Ministry did not have funds for compensation, so AAF had to pay.

Since 2006 the center operated very well. The land disputes arose in April 2011 when we began to see bad signs.

Tam Dao National Park’s director Do Dinh Tien introduced the Truong Giang Tam Dao to work with the center and asked the Center to cut part of its land for the company to build an eco-tourism zone. AAF, of course, disagreed, for many reasons. Firstly, this is the land of the MARD. Secondly, the project was approved by the Prime Minister.

Truong Giang Tam Dao then asked the MARD to lease 48ha of land in Chat Dau Valley, including the land of the Tam Dao Bear Rescue Center. After that, Tien asked the center to stop construction of a wilderness zone.

He then said the project lacked this kind of paper, the kind of procedures and the land use right certificate (red book), etc. But there is one thing: Tien is the Vietnamese director of the project, which means that he is responsible for taking care of the paperwork but he is the one who complained about paperwork.

Regarding the red book, previously we asked the MARD about it but the Ministry replied: this land and the bear rescue center project are both under the management of MARD. Moreover, this is a nonprofit project and after 20 years the center will be returned, so the Ministry does not need to grant a red book.

I found many issues in this case that need to be clarified. I have taken documents from many sides and prepared to question the MARD on this issue.

Mr. Tien alleged the national security to force the Bear Centre to give land back to the Truong Giang Tam Dao company, in which Tien’s daughter has a 10% stake. This company even invited a design firm to measure land of the bear center in several days.

We had meetings between the parties with the MARD in late 2011. The ministry confirmed that this land belongs to the project, and asked Tien to not interfere. However, in October 2012, we suddenly received a dispatch asking the center to relocate for national security reasons.

This decision is based on the written request of the Director of the Tam Dao National Park. It is more ridiculous when just a few days later, Tien submitted to the MARD a project to build another animal conservation center, also in that area.

Since then the operation of the Tam Dao Bear Rescue Centre has faced many difficulties. All construction activities of the center have been suspended, waiting for the final decision of the Prime Minister.

The AAF has launched a program to sign a petition to send to the Prime Minister to keep the center. Has the Prime Minister responded?

Bears at the Bear Rescue Center in Tam Dao, Photo: Nhan Dan.

I was told that the Government Office has received a lot of letters from individuals and international organizations about this. The Prime Minister has not had official opinion about this.

AAF had called for recovering all bears that are bred for bear galls in Vietnam. Is this also a reason why many people “do not like” the center?

I do not think so. This story is purely a land dispute.

There are more than 2,300 bears being reared for bile over Vietnam. AAF has proposed to the MARD to expand the project, to build some more bear rescue centers. But in this situation, the project will have to stop.

What consequences will occur if the center is forced to relocate?

It will certainly set a precedent, and a very bad impression about Vietnam. If the relocation becomes a reality, I’m afraid that the trust of foreign institutions and investors in the Vietnamese government will disappear, or they will have to consider very carefully. Animal conservation in general will be definitely affected a lot.

Furthermore, Vietnam is one of the countries signing the CITES on animal protection. Certainly the outside world will monitor how Vietnam implements its commitments.

I hope the Prime Minister will carefully consider these factors.

Thank you!

Hoang Huong