WASHINGTON, June 21, 2004�Some 300 farmers near the northern Chinese city of Xian whose land was sold for development without their consent have been targeted by criminal gangs and local officials who beat up and intimidate those who complain, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reports.

Attacks on residents of Dongcun Yizu village who opposed a decision to sell their land in the Weiyang District of Xian have occurred since April 21. On that day, a local village official signed an agreement to sell the 68 mu (4.5 hectares) of farmland for a commercial property development without consulting the majority of farmers affected, local residents told RFA�s Mandarin service.

The attacks are continuing, peasant representative Zhang Zhengmin said in an interview. "Last night a truckload of gangsters came to my sister�s house, which is across the street from my house, and smashed all the windows," he said. Zhang has been hiding in his house since being attacked himself earlier this month.

In accounts described by two separate eyewitnesses, Zhang was attacked by two mobsters armed with knives following an assault by his deputy village chief using his car.

"The deputy village secretary Su Guangqian drove his old VW Santana right into [Zhang]. Then he got out of the car, hit him across the face, and swore at him, saying, �What do you think you�re doing, having a meeting�what are you discussing?" local resident Guo Xugang, who is campaigning against the land sale, told RFA.

Another protester, Su Chunrang, was injured in the same attack. "On June 1, at 3 p.m., we went to petition," Su said. "I don�t know where they came from� They had two knives in their hands and tried to hit Zhang Zhengmin."

After Zhang�with a knife gash down his arm�escaped to his home and shut the door, Su Chunrang was also attacked. "I don�t know what kind of weapon they had in their hands, but they used it to hit my face. My face was subsequently swollen, and both my eyes were bleeding. I was hospitalized for two days," Su Chunrang said.

Guo told RFA the decision was made after a carefully selected group of 13 "representatives" had been kept under virtual house arrest in a high-class hotel and wined and dined, before being required to sign away the villagers� land. Guo was the only one of the 13 chosen who refused.

"We weren�t told where we were going beforehand, and � even though they gave us three good meals a day and high-quality rooms to sleep in, in fact it was a form of house arrest, an irregular way of carrying on," Guo said. "I thought it was unreasonable. I was the only one who didn�t sign."

Su Chunrang said he had heard nothing of the proposals before the agreement was signed on April 21. "We never had a meeting about this. We were never able to say anything about this. Before, nobody had even heard about selling the land."

"If anyone gets in their way, then they�ll come along in a van and sort them out, beat them up. Nobody dares to get in their way. The government just turns a blind eye. They don�t care," he said.

When contacted by RFA, the village official who signed the agreement with the 12 representatives, Zhu Qiyi, said everything was agreed, and that the farmers had received generous compensation, at U.S.$725 per hectare. Asked why more than 120 farmers had already signed a petition against the deal, Zhu replied: "Because they are too damn poor, and they got greedy."

He confirmed that the 13 selected representatives had also been taken on an expenses-paid trip to Vietnam. "The development company [Xian-based Weixing Property Development Co.] paid for it," Zhu said. Dongcun Yizu has around 88 households, and more than 300 residents.

Asked about Su and Guo�s allegations of beatings, deputy village chief Su Guangqian said only: "You should come in person, then I will talk to you face-to-face. The mobile signal isn�t good."

Following the attack on Zhang, the villagers reported the incident to the police. But they were told to apologize to the deputy village secretary. A local police officer told RFA that the problems resulted from the failure of the local farmers to take their complaints "through proper channels."

"They�re all the same, these peasants," an officer identified by his surname, Jia, told RFA. "At the time they�re very happy to take the money, and then after a while they suddenly decide it�s not right and start complaining that they�ve got no money. This doesn�t fit in with the needs of social development."

Meanwhile, Guo�s attempts to take the complaint on behalf of the some 300 villagers of Dongcun Yizu through official channels have been stonewalled at every turn, he said.

"We�ve got around 120 signatures from villagers over the age of legal responsibility, 18. But most of them don�t dare to stand up and fight with those people," Guo said.

RFA broadcasts news and information to Asian listeners who lack regular access to full and balanced reporting in their domestic media. Through its broadcasts and call-in programs, RFA aims to fill a critical gap in the lives of people across Asia. Created by Congress in 1994 and incorporated in 1996, RFA currently broadcasts in Burmese, Cantonese, Khmer, Korean, Lao, Mandarin, the Wu dialect, Vietnamese, Tibetan (Uke, Amdo, and Kham), and Uyghur. It adheres to the highest standards of journalism and aims to exemplify accuracy, balance and fairness in its editorial content. Visit www.rfa.org to learn more about RFA or to listen to RFA broadcasts. #####


Add your comment by filling out the form below in plain text. Comments are approved by a moderator and can be edited in accordance with RFAs Terms of Use. Comments will not appear in real time. RFA is not responsible for the content of the postings. Please, be respectful of others' point of view and stick to the facts.