Authorities in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong detained four people following violent clashes at the weekend, after popular anger over a long-running land dispute in the rebel village of Wukan boiled over once more.
Residents said police used tear gas to disperse the crowds during Saturday's clashes before moving to take protesters into custody.
"The detained villagers included a woman in her 30s who was lifted into a police vehicle by armed police," said a resident of Wukan surnamed Zhang, who witnessed Saturday's clashes between police and land protesters.
He said three men had also been detained during the protest, which began as a peaceful sit-in on a public highway, and that the families of those detained didn't know where they were being held.
"The people who led the sit-in have left the village," Zhang said, adding that the villagers feared the authorities would mete out a heavy punishment to the detained protesters.
He said police had "fired a lot" of tear gas in the melee.
"After they deployed the tear gas, they started detaining people," Zhang said.
He said an unknown number of villagers were injured during the clashes.
"One of the people who led the sit-in was beaten up very badly," he said. "Now, the villagers dare not go out and block the road any more."
Repeated calls to the cell phone number of Wukan village committee deputy chairman Yang Semao went unanswered on Monday.
However, committee member Zhang Jiancheng said the committee had promised to hold talks with government officials in nearby Lufeng city, which administers Wukan, over the village's long-running attempt to retrieve its farmland, which was sold off piecemeal over many years by former Communist Party village chief Xue Chang.
Bid for farmland
Xue Chang was ousted after four decades in charge of Wukan following a protracted campaign of peaceful protest and a face-off over roadblocks and barricades with armed police in December 2011.
Yang Semao, Zhang Jiancheng, and fellow committee members were voted in during fresh elections in March 2012, but have been repeatedly stymied in their quest to retrieve the lost farmland.
However, one tranche of more than 450 mu (74 acres) of farmland was handed back to the committee last month by Lufeng Fengtian Livestock, owned by Hong Kong businessman Chan Man Ching.
But villagers said the land was in a far worse state than when it was leased to Fengtian.
According to Zhang Jiancheng—who was one of three protesters detained at the height of the protests in December, another of whom died in police custody—the villagers were incited to fresh protest last Friday by political allies of Xue Chang.
"A lot of the farmland and grazing land has been ruined by former tenants, and a lot of the villagers are very angry about this," he said, adding that a compensation deal had already been agreed with Fengtian for the degradation of the land.
"Some people have been inciting the villagers to block the road in protest," Zhang Jiancheng said, adding that it had been hard for the newly elected committee to rebuild public trust.
"The members will continue to work hard to address the land degradation issue with Fengtian, and to deal fairly with this matter," he said.
'Strangers' in the crowd
The Wukan resident surnamed Zhang also said that villagers had noticed a number of strangers among the original crowd who went to protest outside the village committee on Friday before the sit-in protest began, suggesting to some that the protest was in some way provoked.
"Their aim isn't to try to get land back for the village; it's to try to overthrow the village committee," he said.
The current committee is entirely composed of former leaders of 2011's violent siege of Wukan, who were voted in by villagers in March 2012.
The requisitioning of rural land for lucrative property deals by cash-hungry local governments triggers thousands of "mass incidents" across China every year, but 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.
In the case of Wukan, however, the standoff with armed police who encircled the village sparked rare concessions following an investigation by the provincial government of Guangdong, which concluded that most of the villagers' demands and complaints were justified.
Reported by Fung Yat-yiu for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Qiao Long for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.