Authorities in the central Chinese province of Henan have sent in riot police to disperse thousands of local residents protesting subsidence linked to a local mining operation, protesters and local residents said.
More than 3,000 villagers from Henan's Xuchang county have maintained a 24-hour silent vigil for the past 12 days over the Quandian coal mine run by the Henan Shenhuo Group, which they say has devastated the ground near their homes, swallowed up a road, and left cracks in their houses.
A protester who gave only his surname Zhang said clashes had broken out after the local government dispatched several thousand riot police to the scene of the protest.
"We were blocking the road so they couldn't carry out their mining operations," Zhang said. "They sent a lot of police carrying shields and batons, but we didn't resist, because they had weapons."
"We all know that they want to mine here, but they should make provision for the local people before they start," he said. "They are just mining with no concern for our safety."
Local residents say that since it began operations three years ago, the Quandian mine has affected quality of life and sparked safety concerns in eight nearby villages, with a combined population of more than 10,000 people.
Repeated attempts to complain to the authorities about subsidence had met with no response, they said.
Many of the protesters are residents of Quandian village, which is closest to the mine and where the most damage has been reported.
The silent sit-in began on May 29, with more than 3,000 people blocking the mine entrance in rolling shifts, 24 hours a day.
A resident of nearby Lingnan village said villagers had forsaken the wheat harvest to join the protests.
"The mine has been excavating under the earth, to the point where it is hollow underground now," she said.
"This is the case in Gangwang, Quandian, and Lingbei [villages].... We definitely want the mining company to compensate us, but they haven't said how much yet."
Security forces block protesters from the mining area in Xuchang county, Henan on June 10, 2012. Photo courtesy of a local resident.
Photo courtesy of a local resident
"We have been protesting for two weeks now, but now the riot police from across the county are camped out here, as well as all the county leadership," she added.
She estimated the police numbers at around 2,000, with 200 vehicles.
"They are still there today," she said on Wednesday.Cracks in buildings
A second resident surnamed Chen said large cracks had appeared in local buildings since the mining operations began.
"The air pollution and the water pollution are also very serious," he said. "All it takes is a few trucks coming through from the mine, and our faces are covered in dust."Employees on holiday
An employee who answered the phone at the Henan Shenhuo Group said many of its employees were on holiday.
"You can get in touch with our propaganda department," the employee said. "They won't be at work for the next couple of days, however."
"You should try contacting them after the Dragon Boat festival," she said, in reference to the Chinese Duanwu Jie summer solstice festival that this year falls on Wednesday.
Repeated calls to government offices in nearby Lingjing township and Xuchang county went unanswered during office hours on Tuesday.
Intensive exploitation of coal seams in the past few decades to meet skyrocketing energy demands has undermined the geological structure of the earth in many mining counties in rural China, investigative journalists say.
On Aug. 15, 2011, 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.Reported by Wen Yuqing for RFA's Cantonese Service and by Fang Yuan for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.