Provincial-level officials of the ruling Chinese Communist Party were ordered to Beijing to begin escorting thousands of disgruntled People's Liberation Army (PLA) veterans back to their hometowns on Thursday following mass protests outside military headquarters earlier in the week.
Thousands of veterans lined the streets on Tuesday and Wednesday outside the party's military arm in protest at the authorities' failure to deliver promised pension, medical and social security benefits.
The protests appear to have sent shockwaves through the leadership, which responded by sending officials from the Central Military Commission (CMC) to speak with protesters, and by ordering provincial and city leaders to Beijing to address the crisis.
The demonstrations have been ongoing, but this week's protests were among the largest organized protests seen in the Chinese capital in years, and come from a group regarded as highly politically sensitive by the government.
The veterans, most of whom are protesting local governments' failure to deliver on promises of jobs, pensions and healthcare after demobilization, wore camouflage uniforms, sang army songs and held banners from cities and regions across China.
Some were veterans of the Korean War (1950-1953) and of a brief 1979 border war with Vietnam, while others were involved in nuclear testing. They came from all ranks of the military, protesters said.
By Thursday, many were already en route home, or had already arrived, sources told RFA.
"All of the veterans I know have already gone home," a protester surnamed Yang said. "The deputy chiefs of nine provinces were ordered to Beijing, to escort the veterans from their provinces back home."
"I think there are still some comrades from Sichuan, Shandong and Jiangsu still in Beijing," he said.
Full response by New Year
The veterans agreed to leave after departments responsible for their welfare promised a full response to their complaints by New Year's Day, they said.
"The Central Military Commission (CMC) has told us that they'll get back to us by Jan. 1, 2017," a protester surnamed Gao told RFA. "But if they don't get back to us by then, I would like to go back."
Gao, who hails from the eastern province of Shandong, said a deputy provincial leader had been called in to speak to the veterans in person in Beijing.
"He told us that all of the issues we raised would be entered into the provincial government's work agenda," Gao said. "They also said they'd respond by Jan. 1. so clearly they are all singing from the same hymn-sheet."
Gao said they had received a similar pledge from their municipal leaders in their hometown, too.
Fellow protester Liu Dejun said the highest-ranking leaders were ordered to Beijing, including provincial governors and mayors.
"We will now wait patiently," Liu said. "It's a few months yet."
Gao said considerable skepticism remains about the authorities' willingness to act, however.
"I think maybe it's 50 percent lies and 50 percent truth, but we should at least wait to see what they say," he said.
Years of stonewalling
He said the resolution of one-third of the issues raised would be considered a success, after years of stonewalling and buck-passing to lower, less powerful levels of government.
"If the central government doesn't give the order, nobody dares do anything further down, so it's clearly rubbish to say that it's the job of local governments to deal with this," Gao said.
Many veterans say they joined the PLA on the promise of guaranteed civil service jobs after demobilization, but that the jobs never materialized.
But they also say they aren't against the party or the current administration under President Xi Jinping.
"PLA veterans from all over China went specially [to Beijing] ... we were all in military service, and we understand the law," a third protester surnamed Sun told RFA.
"The main issue here is how we are supposed to live, and how we are being treated [by the government]," he said. "We are not anti-party, or anti-government."
"We support Xi Jinping, and he knows that, because he sent provincial leaders from all over China to sort out the problem," Sun said.
Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wu Yitung for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.