Prefecture Secretary Le Huy Ngo, and the rescue of 5 prisoners in Tho Ngoc, Thanh Hoa

Bí thư, Bộ trưởng Lê Huy Ngọ

W.Minh Tuan

In 1989, a group of farmers from Thanh Hoa came to Dai Doan Ket newspaper and presented the incident in Tho Ngoc commune, Tho Xuan district, Thanh Hoa province. At this time, Thanh Hoa province has just finished solving the case of Secretary of the Provincial Party Committee Ha Trong Hoa, and the person assigned to replace him was Mr. Le Huy Ngo, former Secretary of the Phu Tho Provincial Party Committee.

Comrade Le Huy Ngo was from Thanh Hoa, so he was sent by the Central Committee to be the Secretary of Thanh Hoa province instead of Ha Trong Hoa who had just been disciplined. Weekly Newspapers, Lao Dong, Tien Phong, and a number of other newspapers have had great merit in uncovering the negative case of Thanh Hoa Provincial Party Secretary Ha Trong Hoa. At that time, Dai Doan Ket newspaper was working on the Dong Tien-Hai Hung case, so we could not participate in the Thanh Hoa-Ha Trong Hoa case.

Now that the Dong Tien case has been completed, Dai Doan Ket newspaper has become a spearhead newspaper for the Tho Ngoc case, Thanh Hoa.

The incident in Tho Ngoc commune, Tho Xuan district, Thanh Hoa province, according to complaints and denunciations of Tho Ngoc farmers, is summarized as follows:

-Tho Ngoc farmers struggle against abusive revenues, against corruption cases of the leaders of Tho Ngoc commune.

But Thanh Hoa province, and Tho Xuan district sent the police to handle, and there was a scuffle between the people and the police. As a result of the scuffle, two farmers were shot and wounded. The farmers took as “prisoners” of 3 policemen, and 2 officials of the District Procuracy, including the Chief Procurator of Tho Xuan District Procuracy.

When the farmer group in Tho Ngoc commune came to Dai Doan Ket newspaper to report the incident, the scuffle was over. The farmers were holding 5 “prisoners”, and fenced up all the surrounding of commune, “no one come in, no one come out”.

Two farmers who were shot and wounded were taken to Viet Duc Hospital, in Hanoi to have their bullets removed. Many farmers followed to Hanoi to guard in the Viet Duc hospital. Authorities of Tho Xuan district, and Thanh Hoa province are preparing to deal with and try to free 5 “prisoners”.

After receiving the farmers’ delegation in Tho Ngoc commune, I contacted the other newspapers, and the another  newspapers suggested that Dai Doan Ket newspaper arrange a car and transport the journalist group to Thanh Hoa to find out what happened.

Editor-in-Chief Ngoc Thach of Dai Doan Ket agrees.

I-Minh Tuan, reporter, and journalist Le Van Ba, member of the editorial board were sent to Thanh Hoa.

Dai Doan Ket newspaper’s old-fashioned limousine was used to transport journalists.

Reporter of Nong Dan Vietnam newspaper (now renamed Nong Thon Moi newspaper) Trinh Thach, my close friend, (currently residing in Canada), accompanied our delegation.

The compact car can carry 5 people, now it has to carry up to 7 journalists from the People’s Army newspapers – Mr. Pham Van Huan (now Major General, Editor-in-Chief of Quan Quan newspaper), and two reporters from Voice of Vietnam. Totally 7 people, and driver, 8 people were crammed in small old Russian car.

Trinh Thach and I, two young reporters, had to sit in the back of the car, where the tires and spare parts were stored. But very happy.

Mr. Pham Van Huan of Army newspaper, as young as I was, was responsible for telling jokes to journalists to relieve tiresome during a long many hours of driving from Hanoi to Thanh Hoa.

Fortunately, there was no traffic police to stop and question this old overloaded car. When we arrived in Thanh Hoa province, we were received by Secretary of the province Le Huy Ngo.

Secretary Le Huy Ngo is very sincere and cordial. He briefly presented his opinion. The police are proposing to send a special police team to free 5 people taken as “prisoners”, with the support of special police from the Ministry of Interior (now the Ministry of Public Security) to help.

Mr. Ngo opposes this plan.

If so, it is possible that 5 “prisoners” will be killed by the farmers, and there will be great bloodshed, both on the peasant’s side and on the police side.

The army refused to participate in the attack on the village, citing “this is the people, not the enemy”.

Currently, the people of Tho Ngoc commune are fencing the village, controlling all entrances and exits, the government cannot enter the village, so the Thanh Hoa provincial government does not know what the situation is in Tho Ngoc commune, and how the fate of 5 “prisoners” was.

Journalist Le Van Ba, on behalf of the journalists in the old car, suggested that let the journalists go to Tho Ngoc first, listen to the people’s wishes, see what the people suggest, then there will be a solution. Secretary of the Provincial Party Committee Le Huy Ngo agreed.

The next day, our Russian old car crammed with our reporters was on the way to Tho Ngoc. Thanh Hoa province provided another car to transport journalists, and was accompanied by two officials from Thanh Hoa province.

From a distance, we see a large, silent village surrounded by green bamboo bushes, located in the middle of a riped yellow rice field, as beautiful as a picture.

There was only a single path through the fields leading to the village. That is Tho Ngoc commune. The village gate has a bamboo barie. Young men stand guard. We showed our press pass, and we got in. The two officials from Thanh Hoa province who followed us did not have press cards, so they were not allowed to enter the village. They anxiously sat outside, behind the bamboo barie, waiting for us to come out.

This is a very beautiful village, in the village wide roads, many spacious houses located along side of road, seems to be a rich village.

The commune government appointed by the State was paralyzed. The people themselves elect a temporary leadership board to manage the affairs of the commune. Most of the interim leadership are veterans experienced many battles during the Vietnam War. Many veterans after the Vietnam War, also participated in the war in Cambodia, and the war on the northern border with China. Some people are commandos-DAC CONG.

Now they use their old fighting knowledges to train young people in the commune, to prepare for an new police attack. The rudimentary weapons of guerrilla warfare were used, knives, spears, sticks, bamboo poles,,,..In addition, there was one more final plan, if attacked by strong force of police. If the police can enter the village, the people will spread straw all over the village, pour gasoline, burn the village, and fight to the death, as in the old days against the French, but they will definitely not surrender.

I guess if the police attack the village, the loser will go to the police.

When we entered the village, we met Mr. Xuan Ba, a famous reporter of Tien Phong newspaper, born from Thanh Hoa, who had entered Tho Ngoc himself before. He is the “earth magistrate” here.

The temporary commanding officers of the farmers received us in a large house. Outside in the yard, farmers gathered very crowded, but very orderly.

Journalists and citizens are friends.

Me and Trinh Thach – Nong Dan newspaper, and a reporter from Voice of Vietnam were assigned to talk to farmers in the yard outside, while other journalists talked to the temporary leadership of the commune inside the big house.

Children curiously look at my and Trinh Thach’s 2 cameras.

The will of the people is very simple. They asked the province to strictly handle corrupt commune officials, asking to reduce unreasonable contributions, taxes,,.

I find all of these suggestions to be legitimate, right, true, not wrong at all.

Trinh Thach and I carried 2 cameras and took pictures of farmers sitting in the yard, while a reporter from Voice of Vietnam sat down to take detailed notes on farmers’ requests.

Then we were led to visit 5 “prisoners”.

These five people were kept in different locations, one for each, and were now led to a gathering place to meet journalists. They are well fed, but their spirits seem to be depressed and brainless.

We took pictures of them, recorded their names and addresses.

Outside in the yard, farmers display the weapons and vehicles used by the police during the attack on the village, which the police abandoned when they fled.

These are batons, guns, speaker batteries, police hats, handcuffs number 8,,,

These weapons and tools of repression used to look terrible, but now, lying in the yard of the village, as pathetic as the other 5 prisoners.

Five prisoners stood with their hands folded in front of their stomachs, standing in a long line near the weapons on display. They peeked at the weapons on display, as if looking at evidence of a crime.

They look poor, with their heads down, like war criminals, including the director of the Tho Xuan District Procuratorate.

Our delegation of journalists left Tho Ngoc and returned to Thanh Hoa town during the day. Secretary of the Provincial Party Committee Le Huy Ngo received us again. He listened attentively to our opinions, and finally accepted the conditions proposed by the people of Tho Ngoc.

Thanh Hoa province carried out all the preparatory work.

Early the next morning, our delegation of journalists again returned to Tho Ngoc, accompanied by representatives of Thanh Hoa province, led by a provincial vice president.

This time, all groups were allowed to enter the village.

The Vice President of the province and representatives of the people drafted a document to record the opinions and suggestions of the farmers, as a condition for the people to release 5 “prisoners”.

It was dark, all procedures for the return of “prisoners” were completed.

I sat in the first car, the old-fashioned Russian car of Dai Doan Ket newspaper. A prisoner-of-police sat next to me. I held up the camera so people knew I was a journalist. The car crept slowly through the crowded line of farmers standing on both sides of the village road.

The policeman sitting next to me whispered to me that yesterday, when we visited them, when we left, he just wanted to be gone with us. Because he thought that if Thanh Hoa province chose to attack the village to free them, they would probably be killed, and that our visit might be our last.

Near midnight, we returned to Thanh Hoa town.

Provincial Party Secretary Le Huy Ngo, Provincial President, Provincial Police Director, and other leading officials of Thanh Hoa Province are still waiting for us, have not eaten.

We were hungry, and they were hungry too. We are very happy to have helped Thanh Hoa province solve a difficult problem, freed 5 “prisoners”, and helped the people of Tho Ngoc realize their wishes.

Most of us were drunk that day, especially Xuan Ba, a reporter for Tien Phong newspaper.

After dinner, Mr. Xuan Ba staggered because of drunkenness, led us to visit Thanh Hoa town, wild and poor. But now, in 2022, Thanh Hoa town has become Thanh Hoa city, and is very developed, with the largest foreign investment project in Vietnam, which is the Nghi Son steel factory project, worth more than 1 billion dollars, invested by Japanese company Idemitsu.

Secretary of the Provincial Party Committee Le Huy Ngo thanked us on behalf of Thanh Hoa province, and promised to direct and seriously conclude the negative cases in Tho Ngoc that people have denounced.

Our delegation of journalists boarded the old Russian car of Dai Doan Ket newspaper and returned to Hanoi. Now on the road back to Hanoi, our car was stopped by the traffic police to check the documents, and check the overloaded vehicle.

All of us journalists got off the bus, surrounded the two young traffic policemen, and held out our Press Cards. The two traffic policemen were so scared, they smiled as bright as flowers, invited us to get in the car and go right away.

Traffic police and journalists are friends too.

Now, I want to talk a little bit about Comrade Secretary of the Provincial Party Committee Le Huy Ngo.

When comrade Le Huy Ngo was still Secretary of the Phu Tho Provincial Party Committee, I went to Phu Tho to interview him several times. He was a very simple man, calm, loved by the people. When he returned to Thanh Hoa, I met him again in the Tho Ngoc case. The solution to the Tho Ngoc case shows that Mr. Le Huy Ngo chose a safe solution, beneficial to the people, and beneficial to the Party and State.

After that, Mr. Le Huy Ngo was assigned to the Central Committee, as deputy head of the Central Organization Department. He was later appointed Minister of Agriculture. Minister of Agriculture Le Huy Ngo’s boldest image is that when there were storms and floods, he went everywhere to help his people overcome the consequences of storms and floods.

Mr. Le Huy Ngo was different from the image of some other leaders when visiting flood victims, smiling happily to pose for the journalist’s camera lens.

Then came the bird flu outbreak, Minister Le Huy Ngo worked with farmers to deal with all the consequences of the epidemic. There is no agriculture minister as devoted to farmers as Mr. Le Huy Ngo.

Then the La Thi Kim Oanh case happened, two deputy ministers of the Ministry of Agriculture were implicated and disciplined.

And at the beginning of May 2004, at the 5th session of the National Assembly, the 12th National Assembly, Minister Le Huy Ngo bravely submitted his resignation as Minister to accept responsibility in the case of La Thi Kim Oanh.

It can be said that Comrade Le Huy Ngo is the first minister in Vietnam who dares to resign to accept responsibility for himself for the mistakes of his subordinates.

Comrade Secretary of the Provincial Party Committee, Minister of Agriculture Le Huy Ngo is a respectable person, worthy of many Vietnamese leaders to learn from. ///

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