Sichuan Petitioners Get Rare Visit

A high-level official tells Chinese quake victims he will provide them with housing and compensation.

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tianwang.jpg Tianwang founder Huang Qi meets with quake victims from Beichuan county in an undated photo.

A rare and high-profile visit by a high-ranking official to the quake-hit regions of Sichuan province has sparked hopes among local campaigners that the government may finally be moving to find them new homes.

Deputy governor Wei Hong, who has pledged that all reconstruction work will be finished by the end of this month, visited the homes of quake victims who recently went to Beijing to complain about forced evictions and a lack of housing, three years after the earthquake devastated Wenchuan and Beichuan counties.

"He met with Luo Shuili and Jiang Dapei," said fellow petitioner and Beichuan resident Wei Yuancui said on Tuesday. "He asked them why they went to petition in Beijing and whether there were any problems he could help them with."

"Everyone is going to get 30 square meters of free temporary housing," said Wei Yuancui, who says the government demolished his family home but refused to offer him a new one under quake reconstruction plans.

Luo Shuili, who lives in Beichuan's Leigu township, confirmed the official visit.

"They just came to ask us some stuff," Luo said. "We told them [our problems.]"

Promise of change

Fellow petitioner Li Yigan said the officials had spent half an hour at his home. "They spoke to me in my home for about half an hour," Li said.

"They talked about the demolition and the temporary housing and compensation, things like that," Li said.

"He promised to change any injustices he found and to make the accounts public."

Dozens of Beichuan villagers whose homes collapsed in the earthquake say they have yet to be allocated new homes under government reconstruction plans, and are calling for a probe into allegations of official corruption.

For Wei Yuancui, Wei Hong's promises were welcome. But he added: "I don't know if they will implement this."

The government says it has poured 787.1 billion yuan (U.S $120 billion) in reconstruction funds into the region since the devastating earthquake killed more than 80,000 people on May 12, 2008.

Authorities in Leigu detained some of the delegation of 52 petitioners who traveled to Beijing earlier this month, detaining them for questioning, a local rights group said.

Positive response

Huang Qi, founder of the Tianwang rights website, welcomed Wei Hong's visit on Tuesday.

"This is a positive response from the large-scale petitioning trip to Beijing by the quake victims from Beichuan county," Huang said.

"This result isn't just the result of hard work by the Beichuan residents, but also the result of the concern showed by the outside world for the quake victims."

"We hope that a whole range of problems in the May 12 earthquake disaster zone will now be gradually addressed through dialogue between officials and quake victims," Huang added.

The number of ordinary Chinese traveling to Beijing to pursue grievances against the government swelled ahead of the Party's 90th anniversary this year, as petitioners hoped their cases would get a more sympathetic hearing.

Among those petitioning about the Sichuan earthquake are bereaved parents who want a probe into allegations of official corruption and shoddy construction materials in local schools, which collapsed in the earthquake, killing at least 5,000 children.

Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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