Thousands of People's Liberation Army (PLA) veterans who converged on the eastern province of Jiangsu in protest at their treatment by the ruling Chinese Communist Party have been detained and escorted home after riot police moved in to clear the demonstration site in Zhenjiang city.
"It's all the government's people there now; there are no veterans at the scene any more," a veteran who was detained shortly after arriving in Zhenjiang told RFA on Tuesday.
"The government has suppressed us by force: the veterans have no other way to survive; we have to submit to the use of force," he said. "I was injured; I couldn't avoid being beaten up in the end."
A Zhenjiang resident surnamed Chen said most of the veterans had now left the city.
"They really have all gone, but I don't know why they've all left," Chen said.
Activist Dong Kuihong, who has previously helped PLA veterans lodge petitions and complaints over unpaid pensions and local governments' failure to deliver on promised demobilization benefits, said the authorities aren't allowing anyone to linger in Nanmen Square, the site of protests by thousands of veterans from across China in recent days.
"Over in Zhenjiang, by the government offices, there are police there, and they are refusing to allow people to stay in the area too long," Dong told RFA. "They are preventing people from taking photos."
"Over at the hospital, the No. 1 People's Hospital where the veterans were taken, they are no longer to be seen," she said. "I heard that the injured veterans are being held behind a police cordon, and that even their relatives aren't allowed to visit them and they are being guarded by Zhenjiang police."
Dong said she had visited the hospital on Sunday, but was prevented from seeing any injured veterans.
"When I got to Zhenjiang, the police took us away after they had checked our ID, and confiscated our cell phones," she said. "There was a total lockdown, and we weren't allowed to contact anybody."
"They treated all of the veterans, family members and rights activists who came to Zhenjiang in the same way," Dong said.
Several veterans who attended the protests answered the phone when contacted by RFA on Tuesday, but declined to comment, saying it was "inconvenient," an expression often used to indicate the presence of surveillance or police officers nearby.
One veteran surnamed Su said: "Please understand that you shouldn't call this phone, because it is very risky. I'm sorry, but if I say any more, I'll be in danger."
An employee who answered the phone at the Zhenjiang municipal government offices declined to comment.
"Please could you call the propaganda department, because they are able to reply in a coordinated manner," the employee said.
However, repeated calls to the Zhenjiang municipal party committee propaganda office rang unanswered during office hours on Tuesday.
The municipal and provincial authorities last week drafted in huge numbers of police and volunteers to serve as security guards after thousands of veterans gathered in protest on the city's Nanmen Square outside the municipal government offices last week.
Video footage of the city posted to social media showed veterans gathered around regional banners in military-style rows, police in riot gear lining the streets, with large numbers of police vehicles parked and very few pedestrians.
Over the weekend, riot police moved in on the protesters in the middle of the night, beating and detaining them en masse, sources close to the protests told RFA.
Some veterans are calling on the authorities to abide by promises made to them before they signed up to fight in China's short border war with Vietnam in 1979, while others are citing official document No. 75 issued by China's cabinet, the State Council, in 1978 promising to find jobs for demobilized military personnel.
Clause 3 of the Military Pensions Priority Regulations requires governments to ensure that the standard of living and social situation of demobilized PLA soldiers doesn't fall below the national average.
Reported by Lau Siu-fung for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.