Four evictees forcibly relocated to make way for a new dam in China's central province of Hunan have committed suicide, a rights group and media reports in Hong Kong said on Thursday.
Three men killed themselves to protest their forced relocation for the dam project in Hunan's Hongjiang city, the China Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) group said in an e-mailed statement.
"On Dec. 25, two villagers in their mid-60s took their own lives, one reportedly leaping to his death from the roof of his residence as it was being demolished," the group said.
"The other hanged himself in his home shortly after he was coerced to sign a relocation agreement."
It said a third man also hanged himself after eviction personnel from the local government went to his home to have him sign a similar agreement.'
'It's all gone'
Local residents said they had little choice in the relocation, as the government had cut off electricity to their homes in Tuokou township, near Hongjiang.
"It's all gone, sold," said a Tuokou resident who declined to be named. "I have moved out, because it has all been requisitioned."
He said he hadn't heard of the suicides, however.
Calls to the cell phone of the local village Party secretary resulted in a message saying the phone was switched off on Thursday.
Hong Kong's Ming Pao newspaper reported on Thursday that a total of four people had killed themselves as a result of the relocation in Hongjiang.
It said Hongjiang officials—keen to finish the hydroelectric project as soon as possible—had put huge pressure on the Tuokou residents to move.
It said local residents had killed themselves in protest at low compensation and official threats.
The residents were unhappy at being offered just 300 yuan (U.S. $48) per square meter in compensation for their homes, a rate that many say won't enable them to buy similar accommodation elsewhere.
"This is pretty low," said a local real estate agent. "Of course it depends on the property prices in different areas," he added.
A second estate agent said that rates are set by the central government, and that funds do not always end up in the right hands.
"Of course they're afraid that it has been all swallowed up for the private use of village and township officials, and that the money's all gone," he said.
China's central government has typically favored large-scale hydroelectric projects as a clean and cheap way of meeting skyrocketing energy demand.
However, such projects have always been controversial.
The massive Yangtze river Three Gorges dam drew vocal opposition from rights activists because of its forced displacement of more than 1.2 million residents—along with the destruction of homes, farmland, businesses, and cultural landmarks—to make way for the dam and its reservoir.
China’s government had justified the relocation by pointing to the need for flood control on the Yangtze and to the project’s goal of producing 84.69 billion kilowatt hours of electrical power per year, according to official claims.
But officials began admitting to major problems with the project in 2007, citing a series of problems with the 185-meter (607-foot) dam and its 660-km (410-mile) reservoir.
Widespread erosion, fatal landslides, and pollution followed the U.S. $23 billion project’s completion in 2006, officials told a conference last year in the central city of Wuhan.
And the Pubugou project, a series of ladder-like dams on Sichuan's mountainous Dadu river, has sparked protests and armed confrontation, with the army moving into the area to quell angry protests in 2004.
Beijing sees such projects as part of its key infrastructure investment program aimed at boosting economic growth and relieving poverty in China's lagging western regions.
Reported by Ho Shan for RFA's Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.