Dozens of ethnic Mongolians took to the streets of their local town on horse- and camel-back in protest at encroachments on their traditional grazing lands amid an ongoing dispute over an influx of residents from elsewhere in China.
The protest was staged by around 100 residents of Eznee (in Chinese, Ejina) Banner, an administrative area similar to a county, in the Alshaa (Alashan) League area of Inner Mongolia, activists said.
Photos of the protest showed people wearing traditional Mongolian robes, and riding on horses and camels in the streets of Dalain-Huv township, the administrative capital of Eznee Banner.
They rode to the gates of the Banner government, demanding an explanation for an alleged attack by Han Chinese migrants from neighboring Gansu province, SMHRIC spokesman Enhebatu Togochog told RFA.
"Their protest was mostly to call on the government to take effective steps to stop Han Chinese from Gansu from taking over their grasslands," he said.
"They have called repeatedly on the government of Eznee Banner to do something about this ... they want them to take action to punish them."
According to herders who spoke to SMHRIC, the dispute over encroachment by incoming migrants has gone on for a number of years.
"Our grazing lands have been occupied and destroyed by these Chinese for years,” the group quoted Mongolian herder and protester Tumur as saying in an article on its website.
"They harvest medical plants, extract minerals, and open up oases on our land to make profits, leaving our natural habitat destroyed and our very way of life threatened," Tumur said.
An official who answered the phone at the Eznee Banner government offices on Friday declined to comment, referring inquiries to the local propaganda bureau.
Calls to the Banner government propaganda bureau rang unanswered during office hours on Friday, while an official who answered the phone at the Banner police department declined to be interviewed.
The authorities appear to have made some sort of response to the protest, announcing on Dec. 10 the detention of 10 suspects in Gansu's Jinta county.
However, there are signs that local tensions may already have erupted into violence.
More than 100 masked assailants reportedly "attacked a checkpoint" in Eznee, injuring 13 workers and destroying the premises and equipment, SMHRIC quoted a Dec. 6 news report as saying.
Herders from the same community protested last May, demanding that the Chinese government halt the expansion of a nearby military base, as well as an influx of Gansu migrants, who they accused of grabbing land and destroying a key watering area.
When protesters set off to march to the Lanzhou Military Command Air Base No. 14, they were met with an armed police response and made to stop at gunpoint, SMHRIC said.
Herders are accusing the government of acting "against the will of Mongolian people" in allowing the land grabs.
The area was selected in 1958 to be the site of a missile test facility under China's national defense policy, SMHRIC said.
The Alshaa region, which is traditionally a camel-raising region of grassland inhabited by nomadic groups, has also been devastated by mining operations, its fragile ecosystems destroyed and its water supplies depleted, it said.
Reported by Hai Nan for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.