Chinese authorities in the northern region of Inner Mongolia have detained 30 people following protests by ethnic minority herders over the loss of their traditional grazing lands.
The detentions came after hundreds of residents of Manzutun village, in Ar-Horqin Right Front Banner (in Chinese, aluke'erqinqi), gathered on Thursday in protest at the signing over of their grazing lands to a farming company.
The banner (or county) government sent in riot police to disperse the protests, sources told RFA.
"Why did they sent riot police to detain our compatriots today?" a local resident said. "We didn't do anything to break the law, or to contravene [ruling] Chinese Communist Party policy."
"We just called on the farm to give us back our land, our grasslands. Officials are supposed to take care of us."
An officer who answered the phone at the Manzutun village police station confirmed that some members of the local herding community had been detained.
"It was the [banner] police [who detained them]," the officer said, but declined to comment further.
Ongoing land grabs
Germany-based ethnic Mongolian activist Xi Haiming said the clashes were the latest in a string of similar incidents across the Inner Mongolian region.
"There have been a lot of incidents like this because ethnic Mongolian herders' land is being snatched away from them, so they have no way of making a living," Xi said.
"It doesn't matter if you're a herder or a farmer; if you have no land, you have no livelihood."
Xi said much of the land appropriated by Chinese timber, mining or agricultural companies has been grazed by Mongolian herders for many generations.
"This land is the basis for our existence; it's our land," he said. "But now they are saying it belongs to the state: because they want to use it, it is being taken away from us."
"This will mean the end of ethnic Mongolians."
Xi said local herders are regarded instead as pools of potential labor by incoming investors in agricultural ventures in the region.
"There's a huge livestock farming facility at Zhaobenshan in Ar-Horqin, for example," he said. "These outsiders have both power and money, and all the backing of government behind them, and they use that money to buy off local officials."
"This creates an unholy alliance between government and business, and it's the ordinary people who lose out in the end."
Last May, herders living near the Hanshan Forestry Station in Ar Horqin hit out a state-run forestry station for using jeeps to drive them away from local grazing lands.
Herders say their grazing lands have been gradually taken over by the forestry company since 2000, when the government designated more than 100 mu as a "National Protection Area" and banned any grazing on the land.
But local officials had also refused to pay compensation to the herders, they told RFA at the time.
Local herders also protested in August 2013, saying that waves of Chinese immigrants from Sichuan have recently flooded townships in Ar Horqin banner.
Ethnic Mongolians, who make up almost 20 percent of Inner Mongolia's population of 23 million, increasingly complain of widespread environmental destruction and unfair development policies in the region.
Clashes between Chinese state-backed mining or forestry companies and herding communities are common in the region, which borders the independent country of Mongolia.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.