HONG KONG—Authorities in the northern Chinese province of Shaanxi have launched a crackdown on villagers who blockaded a fertilizer plant in protest at plans to resettle them to make way for its expansion.
"At one time, the villagers totally blocked the entrance to the fertilizer plant, which caused a big stir," a source close to the situation said. "There were some journalists there taking pictures but no reports were ever published. A lot of police and armed police were mobilized."
The crackdown began around three weeks ago, he said. "The municipal Party secretary and the mayor both came to the scene to talk to the people. They promised that the expansion would be temporarily halted and the incident would be forgotten."
There were police, armed police, government officials from eight different departments, all arriving at the village in buses and jeeps."
More than 1,000 residents of Xiaofu village, Xingping city, are complaining about forced evictions with insufficient compensation and a lack of due process amid plans to expand a fertilizer plant owned by the Shaanxi Xinghua Chemical Co.
Reports have been posted online by netizens who say they are residents of Xiaofu village protesting the expansion. Those reports said villagers were offered compensation of 50,000 yuan (U.S.$7,300) per person.
However, the dispute arose over the fact that compensation issues were still not fully agreed when demolition gangs began moving in, the online reports said.
Forced into agreements
The resident of Xingping said large numbers of officials from the Xingping municipal government had come to the village to try to force a settlement.
Meanwhile, some villagers who tried to stand up for their rights have been detained on charges of incitement to subvert state power, the source said.
"Twenty days ago the government mobilized itself in large numbers," the source said.
"There were police, armed police, government officials from eight different departments, all arriving at the village in buses and jeeps. They set up camp in the village committee offices. The place was full of people. They were sending out propaganda cars."
The officials were trying to get people to leave their homes as soon as possible, and those who did would receive 20,000 yuan as a bonus payment, the source added. At the same time, all the local Party and village government officials were relieved of their duties, leaving the villagers leaderless.
"After that, they forced anyone who still refused to move house out of their homes anyway. The conditions were very unreasonable, but no one had any choice," he said.
"If anyone gathered together in groups of more than three people outside their homes after about 5 or 6 p.m., they would be accused of incitement to subversion and possibly arrested. They arrested a lot of people. Some were released, and some were not. The villagers got scared. Recently I heard that around a half of them have started to move house now."
Villagers had been promised temporary housing, but that had not materialized, and they were now expected to find a place to rent. "They are being given 100 yuan each a month to do this. There are no apartments available for rent in town at that price," he said.
Government spurs evictions
A report published on the Xingping municipal government Web site said a meeting was held Nov. 14 to discuss the resettlement of those displaced by the Xinghua expansion project.
At that meeting, the municipal Party secretary told cadres that no effort should be spared in completing the evictions, and that their resolve should not falter.
The efforts of all local officials and villagers' representatives should be enlisted in spearheading this task, the report said.
According to the Party secretary: "Evictions should continue to be actively pursued, while at the same time education work should take place to help the villagers see the bigger picture and take the long-term view, and see that small sacrifices must be made by ordinary people for the greater good in order to fit in with the municipal government's plans for land acquisition and eviction."
He reportedly called on the assembled officials to speed up the work and to crack down harder in enforcing these policies in order to complete the eviction of villagers in Xiaofu.
Repeated calls to the Xingping municipal government went unanswered during office hours on Tuesday.
An employee who answered the phone at the Shaanxi Xinghua Chemical factory said that there had been an explosion at the fertilizer plant, which was now closed.
This report was denied by an employee of the city's railway station, who said transportation links were operating normally.
"This is the Xingping railway station," the employee said. "No, [there was no explosion], that's rubbish. As far as I know, all the villagers in Xiaofu have already moved away."
The source in Xingping said there had been a total freeze on information about the expansion project and associated protest.
"Nobody dares to say anything now. They don't dare to make phone calls. Apparently you can't get on the Internet from Xingping now at all. Nobody dares to express an opinion in the village either," he said.
"They are all worried about how they will support themselves in the future. A lot of people are bursting into tears on the streets. You frequently see women crying. If you want to know any more you will have to talk to individual households."
Forced demolitions and their ensuing protests are increasingly common across China, as local officials and developers sign lucrative property deals, often with scant compensation and little discussion with those who will be made homeless.
Legal challenges to such developments are rarely effective, and complaints lodged after the event can be ignored for decades, with those trying to pursue them frequently monitored and detained.
Original reporting in Mandarin by Ding Xiao. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.