Skirmish Over Farmland

Authorities in southern China seize village fields after residents reject compensation.

2011-04-12
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guangxilandclash305.jpg In a screengrab from YouTube, villagers block roads to prevent the seizure of their land.
Video originally uploaded to YouKu.com by a resident

Clashes between villagers and police over a land grab have left one person hospitalized and led to the arrest of several others in southern China’s Guangxi province, according to residents.

The violent confrontation was sparked by a government plan to forcibly seize 400 mu (66 acres) of farmland in the Beigang district of Guigang city on Sunday.

Residents of Simin village had blocked excavators and were guarding the land in protest when police moved in, a witness said Tuesday.

"The villagers lined up along the road, blocking traffic. Then the People’s Armed Police (PAP) came and began to beat us,” the witness, who asked to remain anonymous, told RFA.

“They seriously injured one of our villagers. He is in the hospital now."

Arrests made

Police detained villagers during the melee and after the clashes had ended. According to villagers, at least eight residents of Simin were taken away by police, while many others are being sought by the authorities and are afraid to return home.

The daughter of detained villager Bu Shuiyuan said Tuesday that police did not provide any documentation when they detained her father and uncle.

"The Sunday clash was really like being at a battlefield, with dozens of police cars rushing towards us,” she said.

“Following the clashes, police have been searching for village participants from door to door. They even detained people who were not there. In our family, six people were detained. Today they issued a new wanted list and caught another villager."

An officer from the local police station who answered the phone Tuesday denied his squad’s involvement in the detentions.

"We did not detain the people [you asked about]. We generally do not detain people during land disputes," the officer said.

Offer rejected

Residents of Simin village said they had earlier rejected a government offer of 42,000 yuan (U.S. $6,400) per mu for the farmland because the compensation was inadequate.

When officials ignored the rejection of the offer and sent excavators to the farmland earlier this month, villagers commandeered equipment, erected banners airing their grievances, and began to guard the fields both day and night.

On Sunday, police tore down the banners and quarreled with the villagers, who then blocked roads leading to the village.

That afternoon, authorities sent several hundred police, including the PAP, to disperse the villagers. The resulting scuffle left a farmer named Yan Feiming hospitalized with serious head injuries.

A villager, who did not give his name, said residents no longer had any means to support themselves.

“The disputed land is gone and now we don’t even a way to grow vegetables. How can we survive?” he asked.

Lack of coverage

Bu Shuiyuan’s daughter said that following the clashes villagers asked local media to cover the incident, but no reporters ever came to investigate.

“Journalists are unwilling to report negative news, especially about land disputes, because it involves local revenue,” she said.

“I think we are helpless. Some villagers once petitioned the city government over the land, but they never received an answer," she said.

Land acquisition for development, often resulting in lucrative property deals for local officials, sparks thousands of protests by local communities across China every month, many of which escalate into clashes with police.

China sees thousands of "mass incidents" across the country every year, according to official statistics, many of which are protests or sit-ins linked to forced evictions, allegations of corruption, and disputes over rural land.

Reported by Ding Xiao for RFA’s Mandarin service. Translated by Ping Chen. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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