Updated on Oct. 14
HONG KONG—Five people in northern China are dead and more than a dozen have been hospitalized after an attack on villagers involved in a dispute over a coal mine, according to local residents and authorities.
The attack occurred Monday in Shanxi province when more than 100 club-wielding gangsters stormed into the mine near Baijiamao village in Lin county, attempting to expel villagers who had gathered there, residents said.
According to an eyewitness who asked to remain anonymous, one of the gangsters drove his truck into a crowd of villagers during the melee.
The witness said Cheng Tuzhao was killed instantly while two other victims, Hao Chouhong and Cheng Huhu, succumbed to their injuries at a local hospital late Monday.
The truck also struck and seriously wounded several others who were hospitalized, the witness said.
Jin Jianfeng, a reporter for Beijing-based newspaper Democracy and Law, said local villagers told him the death toll had since increased to five.
“Two more people died in hospital on Wednesday, bringing the total death toll to five and 18 injured, one of whom was in critical condition. All the victims are from Baijiamao village,” Jin said.
Cheng Aiguo is reported to be the villager currently in critical condition in nearby Lu Liang People’s Hospital.
On Monday, in the aftermath of the attack, angered local farmers laid three of the corpses out along a major road beside the village, blocking traffic.
Lin county officials sent hundreds of police to the scene, where they confronted the protesting villagers, witnesses said.
Communication cut off
Jin Jianfeng said his calls to local residents with cell phones were disconnected.
He added that local authorities have a vested interest in the mine and are complicit in the attack.
“All local county officials, such the director and deputy
director, as well as police and local court officials are all shareholders in the mining business. They are the culprits of this murderous
attack,” he said.
Jin spent one year in jail last year for exposing corruption in Shanxi’s local mining operations.
A local resident, who declined to give his name, expressed outrage over the incident and complained that the grievances of the villagers were not being heard.
“We were shocked and saddened by what has happened. Five people
have died so far," the villager said.
"I didn’t see or hear any media coverage about this
incident from local media, and we didn’t have any reporters covering
this event. All roads leading here were blocked.”
Outnumbered and unarmed
A villager who declined to give his name said the protesters were outnumbered and unarmed in Monday's attack.
“The gangsters were hired by the private owner of the mine, and they numbered more than 100. Villagers at the scene numbered about 30 or 40, but they were unarmed,” the villager said.
He added that as of Tuesday, the condition of the wounded was unknown, as police had taken control of the area.
“The village is sealed off. Several hundred villagers are protesting on the road, and there are even more police at the scene. Cars have not been able to get in or out of the village for two days,” he said.
A farmer surnamed Li, who lives in a neighboring village, said Baijiamao residents were incensed over the deaths of their friends.
“Traffic is blocked because the Baijiamao villagers are displaying their dead friends on the road. The villagers don’t want the mine open and have already stopped operations for half a year,” Li said.
Li added that the attackers were gang members and had arrived at the scene in two trucks.
‘An exceptionally serious case’
A police commander surnamed Zhang, who said she was overseeing the conflict at the blocked road, confirmed the three deaths.
“Villagers have left the scene, and we have likely detained the three suspected of the killings. Three [villagers] have died,” Zhang said.
Zhang said other victims of the attack were being treated in hospitals in the region, but she didn't have an accurate number of wounded.
Zhang ended the telephone interview by calling the incident “an exceptionally serious case,” adding that it was “inconvenient” for the media to ask questions.
According to local sources, the disputed coal mine belongs collectively to Baijiamao village residents.
But residents say a private operator sold the mine to another owner without their authorization.
Over the last six months, villagers built a group of makeshift tents around the mine site to protect it.
But they say the new “owner,” who has been unable to operate the site because of the villagers, hired gangsters to threaten and expel them from the area.
Last Friday, the villagers went to Taiyuan city, capital of Shanxi province, to petition the provincial high court to solve the dispute.
The following day, police arrested villager representative Cheng Pingshun, who is also the village chief.
Another resident of Baijiamao village, who asked not to be identified, said he doubts the dispute will be settled fairly.
“The collectively owned mine was slyly sold by some village cadres, without even notifying the villagers. We began a lawsuit last year,” the villager said.
“However, the bad guys are all ganged up together. The mine owner is in cahoots with the police.”
Original reporting by Ding Xiao for RFA’s Mandarin service. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated by Ping Chen. Written for the Web in English by Joshua Lipes. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.