Authorities in the southwestern Chinese province of Sichuan have detained a local rights activist after an attempt to remove hundreds of people made homeless by a dam project sparked a standoff between police and angry evictees.
Activist Cao Xianglan was detained as more than 300 villagers whose homes in Sichuan's Dashu township in Hanyuan county were demolished to make way for the Pubugou hydroelectric project faced off with police last week, local residents said.
"Cao Xianglan was forcibly dragged away by the police," said a local resident surnamed Jiang. "She was pushed to the ground when she tried to resist, and her right leg was injured and bleeding."
Cao's former husband, identified only by his surname Li, said he had visited the police station on Monday, and was told that she had been formally detained on criminal charges.
"The police told me she was being held under administrative detention," Li said. "They said she would be held for one month...for petitioning."
Cell phone footage taken at the time of the raid by local residents showed dozens of police vehicles parked at the edge of an urban area, with a number of people looking down from the hillside above.
However, Jiang said not all of the temporary shacks erected by the villagers living in shanty-town accommodation in Dashu had been demolished.
The villagers say they have never received compensation payments since losing their homes to the hydroelectric project three years ago.
"Luckily most of the tents are still there," said Jiang, who has been living in the drafty, temporary accommodation since he lost his home.
"There is no water or electricity, and we have to collect water from the hillside," she said. "We burn trash to keep warm, or find firewood for cooking wherever we can."
"We light candles in the evening and sometimes we use a bit of coal; it's a dog's life," she said.
Jiang said many of the villagers living in the tent city were elderly, and stayed in their tents huddled in quilts and blankets through the cold weather, relying on money sent by their grown children working in factories and construction sites.
"The temperature is only a few degrees above freezing here in the winter, and we have already had one old lady collapse," Jiang said. "She is over 80, and there's no-one to look after her."
Sichuan-based rights activist Huang Qi, who founded the Tianwang rights website, said there was a clear divide between those residents of Hanyuan who had sought to complain about their treatment, and those who had not.
"If you go there, you will see that it is clearly divided between people who are living in quite good accommodation...and the residents of Dashu township who are living in terrible conditions," Huang said.
He called on the authorities to release Cao immediately and work with residents to find an acceptable solution to problems left over by the construction of Pubugou.
The controversial Pubugou project, a series of ladder-like dams on Sichuan's mountainous Dadu river, has sparked protests and armed confrontation in the past, with the army moving into the area to quell angry protests in 2004.
Following that violent standoff, the central government ordered more compensation for relocating residents from 320 yuan (U.S. $38) per square meter of living space to 428 yuan (U.S. $51), according to local media reports.
Local officials and representatives of state-owned enterprises involved in the project were also sent out to do "face-to-face ideology work" with the farming communities.
But local residents said the few hundred families still in dispute over their relocation were paid scant heed by the officials and security forces, who had failed to implement the policies reported by the media.
A total of 100,000 people will eventually be displaced by the project, which is part of Beijing's key infrastructure investment program aimed at boosting economic growth and relieving poverty in China's lagging western regions.
Reported by Fung Yat-yiu for RFA's Cantonese service, and by Xin Yu for the Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.