Ethnic minority people from China's southern province of Guangdong marched to government offices at the weekend to protest land subsidence—sinking of the land surface—from nearby mining operations which they say is affecting their homes and farmland.
The members of the Yao ethnic minority marched to government buildings in Guangdong's Liannan county on Sunday, carrying banners in protest against nearby copper mines, which they say have been allowed to grow with little regulation or concern for safety.
The villagers, from Damaishan township, carried photos showing large splits in the walls of their homes, which they blame on subsidence linked to the copper mining operation.
"There were a lot of people from Damaishan township holding placards on their way to the county government," said a protester surnamed Jiang in an interview on Monday. "The entire township was there; more than a hundred people," he said.
"We are demanding that they stop the [mine] bosses from their unregulated mine expansion," he said.
He said the demonstration had passed off peacefully, amid a heavy security presence.
"There were quite a lot of police there ... maybe [a few hundred]," Jiang said.
He said the march had drawn hundreds of spectators, some of whom had had joined in.
"The ones by the side of the road were protesting too, and some of them joined in and followed us," he added.
A second protester, surnamed Tan, estimated the number of demonstrators at "more than 200, almost 300."
"The government has met with the protesters' representatives and they have promised to consult with the [mine bosses] and sort out the problem," he said.
He said some of the protesters had been received for talks with county officials.
"A few dozen of us went in there to try to reason with them," Tan said.
An employee who answered the phone at the Liannan county government offices declined to comment on the protest.
"I wasn't at work yesterday [when] this thing [happened,]" the employee said. "I don't really know."
The villagers were protesting against exploitation by the Damaishan Copper Mining Co., which was set up in 2003, and began mining in the area.
They say they their township was hit by serious subsidence last month, which triggered breaks in paved roads and splits in the sides of many buildings in the area.
Many of the affected areas have been cordoned off by police, and 78 residents were evacuated.
According to a provincial assessment of the area in 2007, around 560 people are living in an area at high risk of subsidence.
An employee surnamed Luo who answered the phone at the copper mine offices said operations have now been suspended at the mine.
"We have halted production already," he said. "We stopped more than a month ago."
Asked if the mine had suspended operations because of the subsidence, Luo said: "Yes, that's right."
Asked why the villagers were still protesting, Luo said. "We have stopped operating. Perhaps the compensation didn't land yet."
Tan said some of the cracks in the buildings were as wide as 10 centimeters (about four inches).
"The houses were split apart," he said. "Around 20-30 households [were affected.]"
He said the villagers were anxious to get some form of compensation and provision of new housing.
"We are kicking up a fuss at the government," Tan said. "We hope that they'll get back to us with an answer."
Residents in a mining district of northern China's Hebei province clashed with police in November, with residents of Jianming township accusing local mining bosses of carrying out breakneck expansion of coal mines with scant regard for safety.
Villagers said police had surrounded dozens of villagers who gathered outside the gates of municipal government offices last week to complain about the subsidence, beating some of them.
According to investigative journalist Gao Qinrong, intensive exploitation of coal seams in the past few decades to meet skyrocketing energy demands has undermined the geological structure of the earth itself in many mining counties in northern China.
On Aug. 15, the whole of Pangpangta village in northern Shanxi province was swallowed up by subsidence.
Photos of Pangpangta village posted on Chinese news websites and bulletin boards showed houses fallen into chasms in the earth, huge cracks along a village street, and collapsed and damaged buildings similar to a scene after an earthquake.
Rather than focusing on Pangpangta as an isolated incident, however, Gao has investigated the problem of mine collapse and land subsidence across the whole region.
He has recently received anonymous threats warning him to "take care" of his personal safety.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.