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Thursday, November 30, 2006


Hong Kong: We're made as hell, and we're not going to take it anymore!

HONG KONG—Hundreds of villagers have surrounded a local government building and taken two hostages in southern China, demanding market-based payment for land they were forced to sell to developers, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reports.

"We are holding the wife of the former village committee secretary and the son of the head of the Shareholders' Association," one villager said in a telephone interview from Xichong village, near Shunde in Guangdong province. "I am here with about 1,000 other villagers. There are a lot of plainclothes [police] nearby. It's not convenient for me to say too much."

The same villager, who asked not to be named, told RFA's Mandarin service a group of villagers had been summoned Nov. 29 to the local Lunjiao Land Development Co. to discuss their year-long campaign to obtain more money in exchange for just over 1,000 mu (165 acres) of farmland. How much money the villagers have already received in exchange for the land wasn't immediately clear.

These villagers were detained shortly after arriving at the company office, the source said. "They detained 27 people. They used the meeting as a pretext. Around 11:30 this morning, village representatives were taken away by the police in the middle of the meeting."

Sources said that among the 27 detained villagers, five were newly elected village cadres.

"More than 20 villagers were taken away by police, including the village committee chief, the village committee deputy chief, the village chief, the village deputy chief, and a village committee cadre," another villager said. "Also taken away were a number of senior citizens in their 70s and 80s."

By 9:00 p.m., up to 1,000 villagers had descended upon the Xichong village committee building and surrounded it.

The wife of village cadre Wu Peifa said her husband and the others "did not do anything to violate the law. They did not do anything wrong. Why were they taken away? Now villagers have descended upon the village committee. They are demanding the release of our people."

The wife of another detained villager said her husband had come home for lunch but was taken away when he returned to the meeting. "Three elderly villagers in their 70s and 80s have been released," the woman said. "They are ordinary villagers. Not village representatives."

Local police and public security officials declined to comment. "I am not clear on the situation," one official said.

Tensions have been simmering over the land sales for more than a year, and villagers suspect that former village committee shortchanged them in the sales of farmland to build factories.

On Nov. 23, hundreds of villagers surrounded a plastics factory-built on what had been farmland-and demanded to see land-sale documents. The crowd later dispersed without incident.

The villagers also demanded more money for the farmland and want factories built on former farmland to cover trash-collection fees and public utility fees for the village. Factory officials rejected their demands, they say.

In another Guangdong village, Dongzhou, police staged a pre-dawn raid Nov. 18 on a temple where angry villagers had been holding eight local officials hostage for a week over the detention of a local anti-corruption activist.

"They didn't release Chen Qian," one villager from Dongzhou said at the time, referring to the villager detained Nov. 9 while he hung anti-corruption posters in the village. "Instead, they detained three more."

Dongzhou has a bloody history, and protests over land appropriated for commercial and industrial development have been escalating since the 1990s.

On Dec. 6 last year, according to China's official Xinhua news agency, police opened fire "in alarm" on protesters who attacked them with home-made explosives, killing at least three people. But villagers said police fired first on an unarmed crowd, and that the death toll was higher than official reports admitted.

China experiences thousands of protests and confrontations every year that the Chinese government says happen despite efforts to address widespread corruption allegations and growing disparities in wealth.

According to an official report, the number of protests and riots in China fell by more than one-fifth in the first nine months of 2006, down 22.1 percent from a year earlier. Many protests are related to land seizures, pollution, and corruption.

Original reporting by Ding Xiao for RFA's Mandarin service. Service director: Jennifer Chou. Written and produced in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.

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