An ethnic Mongolian herdsman has died after being knocked down by a truck in China’s northern region of Inner Mongolia, five months after a similar incident sparked the region's worst riots in 20 years.
The man had blocked traffic driving through an oil field in Uxin Banner (Wushenqi County) in the Ordos subdivision of Inner Mongolia, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.
But netizens said in online posts that the man was standing in the road to protest against trucks driving through the grasslands, which have been threatened by pollution and other environmental effects.
They said there was a quarrel with the truck driver before the victim was run over.
The grasslands are the heartland of Mongol culture.
In May, the death of a herder named Murgen, who was run over after a standoff with mining company truck drivers in Shiliin Gol, sparked the worst demonstrations in two decades in Inner Mongolia.
The protesters, including university students, called for the protection of herders’ rights and condemned the exploitation of grasslands.
The authorities cracked down on the mass protests by dispatching troops and confining students to campuses.
Xi Haiming (also known as Temcheltu in Mongolian), an exile ethnic Mongolian rights activist based in Germany, said the incident on Thursday was related to Murgen’s case and discontent among ethnic Mongolians in China over continuing exploitation of the region's grasslands.
“The Xinhua report clearly makes this [incident] seem like a regular traffic accident,” he said.
“If this had only happened once, it could be [considered] a traffic accident. But in fact it is not a traffic accident. It is related to what happened in Western Inner Mongolia.”
“This conflict happened in Western Inner Mongolia in May and now it has happened in Ordos and in the future it will happen again,” he said.
Xinhua News Agency reported that the truck driver, named Li Youliang, saw a man, whose name was given in Chinese as Zhaorigetu, blocking the road.
Li drove around him, but when Zhaorigetu saw that the truck did not stop, he got on a motorcycle and chased the truck, the report said.
After following the truck for a distance, Zhaorigetu sped up to pass the truck on the right side and collided with it. Zhaorigetu was taken to the hospital and died of his injuries hours later.
Comments posted by netizens online, however, said that after Zhaorigetu and the driver got into a quarrel, and that the truck driver forced his way through a road barricade and crushed Zhaorigetu to death.
They also said that Zhaorigetu was blocking the oil field’s trucks from driving in order to protect the grassland.
One local resident posted online that,“Around 9:00 a.m. the herder Zhaorigetu, in order to protect the grassland, blocked the oil field’s trucks from passing through.
"Because of this, the truck driver started a quarrel with him and forced through a barricade and crushed Zhaorigetu to death,” according to a report on the U.S.-based Chinese-language website Boxun.com.
Ethnic Mongolians, who make up almost 20 percent of Inner Mongolia's population of 23 million, complain of destruction and unfair development policies in the region, which is China's largest producer of coal. The overwhelming majority of the residents are Han Chinese.
“Before this, there have been many conflicts between mine workers and local herdsmen. Once the mining workers settle in, they set up their rules. They take away all the benefits and leave the local people without anything good. The locals are negatively affected,” Xi Haiming said.
Local police have placed the driver in criminal detention, Xinhua reported.
Reported by Yang Jiadai for RFA’s Mandarin Service. Translated by Arthur Tang and Rachel Vandenbrink. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.