Three Held After Clashes Over Zhejiang Landfill Site

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china-riyuewu-april-2014.jpg Local residents clashed with police at the Riyuewu reservoir in Zhejiang province's Zhuji city on April 4, 2014.
Photo courtesy of a local resident

Authorities in the eastern Chinese province of Zhejiang have detained three people following clashes between police and protesters angry over the contamination of their water supply and plans to turn a reservoir into a trash landfill, residents and officials said on Monday.

Clashes broke out on Friday after officials in Zhejiang's Zhuji city moved to take over and fill in the Riyuewu reservoir that once supplied water to local towns and villages.

"They want to expand [the landfill site] and to fill in the reservoir completely," local resident Zheng Zhonggen told RFA. "We didn't agree with this, but the government took a hard line and clashes broke out."

He said some local people were injured in Friday's clashes with police.

"There are still a few people in the hospital and they detained three people," Zheng said.

"Two were locked up for 10 days and another for 15 days," he said, apparently referring to administrative sentences which can be handed down by police without need for a trial.

Repeated complaints

Zheng said local residents had complained repeatedly about the plans.

"We took it all the way to Beijing, but they didn't take any notice," he said. "We have been pursuing this with the municipal government for several years now."

He said local authorities had moved to start work on the landfill extension project before talks with local people were concluded.

"They paid out a flat rate of compensation for the land, and local people had no say in the matter," Zheng said.

"Each person got 5,300 yuan [U.S.$852] in compensation for [the loss of] that huge reservoir."

"They sent the police here three days ago to deal with local people; there were a lot of police.... They were all riot police."

Construction team

A second local resident who gave only her surname He said the clashes broke out after the authorities arrived at the reservoir with a construction team, ready to fill it in.

"They came to fill it in regardless, but we wouldn't' let them take the earth they needed to fill it in with," He said. "So then there were verbal fights, then physical fights, and some people definitely got hurt."

"They also detained quite a few people," she said of Friday's clashes.

"The government is bullying the farmers and trying to take their land away."

An official who answered the phone at the Zhuji municipal government confirmed there was strong local opposition to the plans.

"But there would be opposition no matter whose doorstep we built it on," the official said of the landfill site. "There needs to be discussion between the government and local people ... and we are all in talks about this right now."

He confirmed that three people remained behind bars.

"Three people are under detention right now," the official said. "But we want to take a factual approach to working for the people."

"Right now, we are paying out compensation as we proceed with the work," he said.

An official who answered the phone at the Zhuji environmental protection department on Monday said it was "dealing with the situation."

But she declined to comment further and hung up the phone.

Decades of pollution

Villagers are unhappy about the loss of 500 mu (82 acres) of farmland in the immediate vicinity of the reservoir, as well as contamination of the water supply by the existing landfill site.

A local resident surnamed Sun said she had taken part in a March 18 protest on the streets of Zhuji over a lack of compensation for the land and the pollution.

"Local people don't agree [with what they're doing]," Sun said. "But our opposition makes no difference and there's nothing we can do about it."

A third resident, Zheng Haiming, said the landfill had been polluting the local environment for decades.

"Zhuji city started dumping all of its trash around here more than 20 years ago, and more than 20 years of wind and rain has sent pollution [from the site] into the reservoir, water storage tanks and into the water table," he said.

"People here have been badly affected by it.... The landfill site is upstream of the reservoir, and the entire reservoir has been polluted; the water is all poisonous now," Zheng Haiming said.

"Back in the day, you could drink the tap water here, but now it's undrinkable, and there is a strong stench [from the landfill site] that is worse...when the weather's hot, so we can't open our doors," he said.

According to Zheng, the city authorities send as much as 1,000 tons of trash to the landfill site each day.

More than three decades of breakneck economic growth have left China with a slew of environmental problems, causing a fast-maturing environmental movement to emerge among the region's middle classes and farming communities alike.

Officials have admitted that China is facing a "grave" environmental crisis, with more than half its cities affected by acid rain and one-sixth of its major rivers too polluted to use for watering crops.

But activists say cleaning up China's highly polluted waterways could take far longer than the three decades it took to foul them up in the first place.

Reported by Xin Lin for RFA's Mandarin Service and by Lin Jing for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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