At least five people have been injured during clashes between ethnic minority Dai people and Han Chinese migrants after authorities opened fire to curb the fighting in the southwestern Chinese province of Yunnan, local residents said.
The clashes broke out near the Burmese border in the Xishuang Banna tourist region, which is home to a large number of cross-border hill-tribes and minority groups, including the Dai community.
Several thousand Dai residents of Menglong township, near the regional capital of Jinghong, wielding machetes, iron bars, and kitchen choppers converged on a guesthouse run by Han Chinese from Hunan, residents said.
"There were several thousand people there," said a resident who lives near the Huajie Guesthouse at the center of the dispute. "Nobody dared to go out."
An employee surnamed Tang, who answered the phone at a nearby guesthouse, said he had seen "nearly 1,000" Dai villagers with knives, iron bars, and machetes march to the Huajie guesthouse and surround it on Friday.
He said the police had opened fire after the crowd threw bricks and stones at the guesthouse.
"The [Dai] village chiefs called for reinforcements," he said. "They were all carrying knives."
"The police opened fire, but the villagers kept throwing bricks, and one police officer was injured," Tang said.
He added: "Actually, the police were firing towards the ground, and the people were injured by ricocheting bullets to their arms. About four or five people were injured. Only one Hunan person was injured."
According to a statement on the official website of the Xishuang Banna regional government offices, the Dai community was enraged over two "security disputes" with the son of the guesthouse's proprietor, identified only by his surname Liu.
"A large number of people smashed up the guesthouse, injuring a number of staff members with long knives and large stones," the statement said.
It said three police officers were also injured in the clashes, after which police fired into the crowd, injuring four Dai villagers and a police officer.
Repeated calls to the Menglong township police station returned a busy signal during office hours on Monday.
Calls to the Huajie guesthouse also rang unanswered during business hours on Monday.
However, one Menglong resident said he hadn't seen any attacks on people carried out by Dai villagers.
"Actually the Dai didn't attack people; it was the police who fired on people," he said.
'They wouldn't move'
Liu's son told RFA's Mandarin Service on Monday that the two "security incidents" had taken place on Sept. 27 and Oct. 10.
He said he had promised compensation to one person, whose injuries he described as "not serious."
In the second, a friend of his had become involved in a brawl with some members of the Dai community, he said.
"He went to school to pick up his child, and someone driving a car got in his way. He cursed them out pretty badly, and then beat up this old guy with an iron bar. This took place on Sept. 27."
"On the evening of Oct. 10, my friends and I were going out to eat together, and we got in the car ... there were a bunch of Dai people in front who had got into some kind of accident, and they were blocking our way," Liu's son said.
"We honked our horn to get them to move out of the way, but they were pretty tough, and they wouldn't move. The kid who was driving got angry and got into a fight with a couple of them," he said.
He said angry Dai villagers had begun gathering outside the guesthouse by late on Thursday, but that the government and local police had turned a blind eye until the situation escalated on Friday.
"That evening, all of our belongings were smashed up, and the next day, no one came to sort out the dispute," he said.
"None of the local leaders would come to our home."
A third Menglong resident said the guesthouse proprietors had a reputation as a mafia-style gang in the neighborhood.
"That family has connections to criminal gangs ... and there have been a few incidents in the past," he said. "They have made people very angry, but there's a lot more going on that I can't really talk about."
"If you reveal who we are, then we'll get into trouble, too ... You'll have to look online."
Residents said police had stepped up their presence on the town's streets, which remained tense on Monday.
"There are still five or six police ... around the shops near the Huajie guesthouse, only one or two of which are open; the rest are closed," the guesthouse employee surnamed Tang said.
Reported by Jiang Pei for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Lin Jing for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.