Authorities in the Chinese capital have detained hundreds of former People's Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers after thousands of them staged a sit-in outside China's central military command on Tuesday in protest over a lack of pension and other benefits, protesters said.
The protesters, mostly veterans of China's brief 1979 border war with Vietnam and the Sino-Soviet border conflict of March 1969, converged on the Central Military Commission (CMC) headquarters in Beijing on Tuesday morning.
Zhejiang-based veteran Sun Enwei said he had counted around 3,000 retired PLA soldiers outside the complaints department of the CMC before the authorities took some of them to the Jiujingzhuang unofficial detention center on the outskirts of Beijing.
"More than 800 people have been forcibly taken to Jiujingzhuang," Sun told RFA. "They have informed the local governments that ... they have to send people to Jiujingzhuang to pick them up."
He said government interceptors, law enforcement officials charged with detaining petitioners to higher levels of government and returning them to their hometowns, were out in force.
"There are more than 3,000 of us here in Beijing, but there are at least 5,000 interceptors," Sun said. "If they hadn't intercepted some of us, there would have been at least 10,000."
The protesters are demanding that veterans from more than 20 cities and provinces be given government payouts and social benefits as promised to them under Chinese law, Sun said.
"The CMC and the State Council complaints offices are the only channels we have through which to pursue this," Sun said.
"We want to present our demands to the [ruling Chinese Communist] Party and government at the highest level," he said.
"Official policy documents clearly state [that these benefits should be paid], but local governments aren't implementing them."
An official who answered the phone at the CMC complaints department declined to comment. "I don't know about this," the official said.
Authorities 'waiting for us'
Some PLA veterans never made it to Beijing, however.
"We had just got off the plane, and the police and representative officials from Yibin city were there waiting for us," fellow veteran Tong Wenqun, who is from the southwestern province of Sichuan, told RFA.
"They dragged us the whole way to a place on the outskirts of town, then they put us ... into separate vehicles," Tong said.
"They searched my phone, and when I told them no, four of them beat me at the same time."
Meanwhile, police in the central province of Hubei placed eight PLA veterans under criminal detention after more than 200 retired soldiers converged on government buildings in the provincial capital Wuhan earlier this month, a Hubei PLA veteran said.
An official who answered the phone at Wuhan's Xihu district police department on Tuesday declined to comment. "I don't know about this," the official said.
China's petitioners, who often include forced evictees or farmers who have lost their land to development, as well as former public servants complaining of a lack of income, flood the government's "letters and visits" petitioning system with more than 20,000 new complaints a day, according to government figures from 2013.
In the process, they say they are repeatedly stonewalled, detained in "black jails," and beaten and harassed by authorities if they try to take complaints against local government actions to a higher level.
Campaigners have previously told RFA that there are currently "thousands" of military petitioners across China whose promises of jobs and pensions after their demobilization from the PLA haven't been honored by the government.
Retired military personnel have been cited by officials and activists as a highly sensitive sector of the population, who might swing a tide of public opinion in their favor and against the ruling Chinese Communist Party because of their proven loyalty to their country.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Hai Nan for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.