Officials in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong on Wednesday pledged to investigate allegations of corruption at a village whose angry residents have besieged government buildings near Shantou city.
Protests began on Jan. 4 in Yuyi village in Shantou's Chaoyang district over the sale of a tract of farmland by village officials, local residents told RFA.
"Several thousand people have been kicking up a major fuss outside the government offices on several occasions, but with no result," a Yuyi resident surnamed Lin said on Wednesday.
An official who answered the phone at the Chaoyang district government offices on Wednesday confirmed that the villagers had complained.
"Yes, there have been [complaints from] this village," the official said. "Of course we don't know whether what the villagers are saying is true or false, but we will deal with any complaint."
"The details of the complaint will be dealt with by the receiving department."
More than 1,000 people gathered outside the headquarters of China's ruling Communist Party's village committee in Yuyi on Tuesday, calling on officials to come out and face accusations of graft.
"We went to the government offices ... and gathered at the gate, calling on the party secretary to come out and give us some answers," an Yuyi resident surnamed Fang said.
"He never came out, so we went into the offices, but we never found him," he said. "After that, a lot of police in riot gear came."
He said police had beaten some of the villagers. "One person was injured," he said.
Villagers said the government had stepped up its response to the protests by throwing a security cordon around the whole village.
"The government mobilized the military and the police, who have surrounded the village," Lin said.
"The villagers' land has been sold off, but we haven't seen any of the money."
"People were growing fruit and vegetables on that land, and now they are making a fuss because they have no income left," Lin said.
"They didn't go through the proper channels in managing this land."
Lin said a local journalist who tried to cover the story was detained.
A second official who answered the phone at the Guanbu township government, which administers Yuyi village, said several thousand villagers had blockaded the local village committee buildings "for a long time."
"We are in the process of dealing with this, and we have run into some difficulty," the official said on Wednesday. "Therefore, there has been no progress."
He denied that the government is refusing to act on their complaint, however. "We have tried to explain the facts to them," he said.
The villagers' complaint document, a copy of which was seen by RFA, accuses village officials Lin Weiwen and Lin Chuyun, among others, of leasing 3,000 mu (494 acres) of farmland out privately to a private fish farm, earning 2.5 million yuan (U.S. $400,000) annually in rent.
The rent is absorbed by the village Communist Party committee to meet "running costs," the complaint said.
The committee made an offer to divide the rent between villagers on Jan. 20, but it was rejected as too small a dividend, protesters said.
A third villager surnamed Han said the process was unfair.
"These officials, these relevant authorities, have taken over the land, and yet the villagers can't receive any proceeds," Han said.
"We all think this is pretty unfair, and of course a lot of people are coming out in protest," she said.
"We all have different rights here, but we all want a fair outcome."
Photos of the protests posted on social media sites by participants showed a large group of people with banners that read: "Right the wrong! Give Yuyi back its land!" facing off with rows of police in riot gear.
The requisitioning of rural land for lucrative property deals by cash-hungry local governments triggers thousands of "mass incidents" across China every year, as do protests against pollution or feared pollution.
Many result in violent suppression, the detention of the main organizers, and intense pressure on the local population to comply with the government's wishes.
The Yuyi dispute shares some similarities with the 2011 siege of Wukan in Shanwei, also in the eastern part of Guangdong province, where sky-high land prices have fueled a dash for revenue by local governments.
Wukan gripped world headlines after local people fought off armed police at makeshift barricades, retaining control of their village and prompting provincial officials in Guangdong to back their demands over the heads of authorities in nearby Lufeng city.
Local people were then allowed to re-elect their village committee and its officials in March 2012, with former protest leaders replacing the old guard in a highly publicized poll that was held up as a model of village democracy in rural China.
Wukan's former village party secretary Xue Chang was removed from office and disciplined for corruption.
But subsequent committees made scant progress on the issue of returning farmland to villagers' control, and two key leaders of the protest were jailed on corruption charges last October, in spite of having returned alleged payments made to their bank accounts.
Reported by Xin Lin for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Lin Jing for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.