HONG KONG — ; Riot police driving armored personnel carriers fired warning shots into the air to disperse hundreds of land protesters in Guangdong Province, according to an eyewitness.
The witness, who spoke to RFA's Mandarin service on condition of anonymity, said dozens of ordinary police and around 40 riot police in full protective gear stormed the protest in the center of Humen township on the morning of June 30. They protesters had been collecting outside government offices for two to three days beforehand, he said.
"At around 10.30 a.m., many of us were taken by surprise. They began to come over with their shields and batons, and about eight or nine APCs arrived, the kind with wheels, one of them was pretty big, and they came rushing towards us," he said. "We were all stunned because at first we thought they had come here on other business, nothing to do with us."
"They pointed their rifles at the crowd, warning them to leave, and most of the ordinary people there ran away immediately, but there were still a group of people that wasn't scared off and stayed to watch from a distance of a few dozen meters. Then the special riot police began firing warning shots into the air," he said.
"The riot police a bit further away from us were also beating up some of the crowd with fists and feet, but some of them weren't afraid so they had to carry them away by their arms and legs. A couple of older people lost consciousness [after being beaten] and they were sent to the hospital. It was a horrifying scene," he said.
The crackdown has been shrouded in secrecy. A duty officer at the Dongguan municipal government hung up immediately when contacted by RFA for comment.
Another confirmed that the Humen township government had indeed transferred land out of the hands of some of the farmers there. "But I don't really understand the situation," he said.
The eyewitness said there had been an information blackout, but that many local residents knew what had happened.
A Humen township official appeared deeply uneasy with the subject. "The police dispersed the protesters with a firm hand," he said. "But if you keep asking more like that I don't dare to tell you. This affair is very sensitive."
One villager affected by the land sales, identified by his surname He, said the eyewitness' account was entirely credible: "They definitely would have used police to move them, how else could they do it? So many people went. There were a few hundred people there." He said some of the protest leaders had been detained during the crackdown.
The villagers — ; from Chigang Village near Humen Township — ; were protesting a decision by their local village committee in 2002 to transfer their agricultural land out of the hands to the Humen Township government.
While the villagers received only 30-55 yuan (U.S.$4-6.65) per square foot of land in compensation, the township government later sold it to a developer for an industrial area and residential complex for 1,000 yuan (U.S.$120) per square foot. Suspecting that official corruption was involved somewhere in the transaction, they had demanded a full investigation into the deal, which resulted a loss of livelihood for many farming families. Around 3,460 mu (242 hectares) of farmland was affected.
A Chigang village committee spokesman said the decision was made for reasons of economic development. "We didn't sell the land to the township government — ; we were cooperating with them.... We were developing our industry in line with national policy," he said.
"We carried it out according to law, in a reasonable manner...including meetings with farmers' representatives...We had more than 20 meetings on this issue,: he said.
But He, a resident of Chigang Village, told RFA that many villagers had no say at all in the decision. "No, they didn't [consult us]. They cut off the electricity and we hadn't even moved out yet," he said. "We told them we didn't want to sell, but they sold it without our knowledge."
He said that many farming families had been ruined by the loss of their land and had little earning power elsewhere to compensate for it.
"If we go out to work, our highest salary would be around 1,000 yuan ...others, like me, could earn only 300-400 yuan per month. We haven't got any education. We have nothing... Even the water and the electricity bill is a few hundred yuan ."
He said he had four people to feed, including two children in school and an elderly relative with no earning capacity. "What are they going to eat?" he asked.