Around 200 residents of a rural district on the outskirts of the Chinese capital marched to local government offices this week to protest against attacks from government-backed thugs on their property amid a long-running dispute over the use of local land for development, local sources said.
The villagers, from Shiliuzhuang village in the southern Beijing district of Fengtai, are accusing the government of murky links with a local property developer.
"This incident occurred because the residents of Shiliuzhuang village reported their local officials for illegal construction which was affecting their ability to go on with their lives," a Shiliuzhuang resident surnamed Xie said in a recent interview.
"They then started retaliatory attacks against us, and smashed up our vehicles," he said.
He said the village was now patrolled on a daily basis by unidentified men, whom the villagers believe are thugs hired by the government and property developer.
"They are a threat to our lives and our property," Xie said. "We reported it, but the police said it would be hard for them to do anything about it, and hard to investigate."
"We want the local government to sort this out for us."
Xie said the officials had initially refused to come out and talk to the protesting villagers, but that some journalists from Beijing newspapers had arrived at the scene.
"They only let us go in and tell them about our complaint after the media showed up," he said. "But their reply was pretty vague."
An official at the Shiliuzhuang village government offices confirmed the protest had taken place.
"Yes, I think so," the official said. "If there is something to announce, we will put it out via the proper channels."
Xie said many of the villagers were complaining that they had been illegally evicted from their homes to make way for a property development, and been allocated temporary accommodation.
But their new homes came with no leasehold or ownership rights, rendering them vulnerable to further eviction, and were of very poor quality, Xie said.
A Shiliuzhuang resident surnamed Zhang said the villagers didn't oppose the decision to demolish their homes, but insisted that the process be carried out reasonably and legally.
"Right now, the villagers don't even feel secure, and the kids don't want to be alone in the evenings at home," he said. "I have to stay with them every day."
"They smashed our cars, our windows, and the villagers' camcorders," he said. "What are we supposed to do?"
In China, all land is ultimately owned by the state, but is allocated to communities under collective contract and through the household responsibility system that replaced state-run farms and communes under late supreme leader Deng Xiaoping.
Land acquisition for development, often resulting in lucrative property deals for local officials, sparks thousands of protests by local communities across China every month, many of which escalate into clashes with police.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.