Tibetan Elderly Group Forced to End Protests Over Land Grabs

tibet-elderly-protester.jpg Elderly Tibetans sit in protest at a construction site in Ngaba.
Photo courtesy of an RFA listener

Authorities in a Tibetan-populated county of western China’s Sichuan province have forced a group of elderly Tibetans to end a month-long protest demanding the return of confiscated land in a dispute spanning nearly three decades, according to sources.

The group, representing 16 families belonging to Trinken village in Sichuan’s Ngaba (in Chinese, Aba) county, abandoned their occupation of a construction site on the land after police threatened to arrest them, they said.

The protesters had called for compensation owed them following the seizure of farmland almost 30 years ago and asked that a still-undeveloped portion of the land be returned, a Tibetan living in India told RFA’s Tibetan Service this week.

“The Tibetans pitched tents and sat in protest, demanding the restoration of the land to its rightful owners,” Lhamo Kyab said, citing contacts in the region.

County authorities had seized the farmland located along the banks of the Ngachu river in 1986 to use as the site for a slaughterhouse, Kyab said.

“Initially, the county government paid compensation of 350 yuan (U.S. $57) per family and promised that jobs would be made available to make up for the families’ remaining financial loss, but this didn’t happen,” Kyab said.

“Now, new construction is going up at the site with no compensation being paid to the land’s original owners,” he said.

“So the Tibetan families presented a written petition demanding the return of their land or the payment of full compensation, and to press their demand they set up tents at the construction site.”

A protester's tent at a construction site in Ngaba.
A protester's tent at a construction site in Ngaba.
Photo courtesy of an RFA listener
Threatened with arrest

After occupying the site from Sept. 17, the demonstrators left on Oct. 20 when threatened with arrest by local police, the Dharamsala, India-based Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) said in a statement on Thursday.

“The Tibetans were told that their sit-in demonstration had brought the ongoing construction work on the land to a halt,” TCHRD said.

“[But] sources with contacts in Ngaba said the police had lied to the elderly Tibetans that they were responsible for obstructing the work because construction work normally stops when the climate gets colder.”

Families affected by the loss of the land had previously petitioned 50 times for full compensation or the land’s return, but had suspended their protests in 2008, “thinking that the local government would misconstrue their activities as political in light of widespread protests and self-immolations in Ngaba county,” TCHRD said.

Chinese development projects in Tibetan areas have led to frequent standoffs with Tibetans who accuse Chinese firms and local officials of improperly seizing land and disrupting the lives of local people.

In April last year, authorities in northwestern China’s Qinghai province took land by force from three Tibetan villages to give to “tens of thousands” of Chinese migrants moving into the area, a local resident told RFA.

Officials told Tibetan villagers that livestock would not be allowed to remain on the confiscated land and advised them to reduce the number of their animals by selling them to slaughterhouses, RFA’s source said.

Sporadic demonstrations challenging Beijing’s rule have continued in Tibetan-populated areas of China since widespread protests swept the region in 2008.

A total of 122 Tibetans in China have also set themselves ablaze in self-immolation protests calling for Tibetan freedom, with another six setting fire to themselves in India and Nepal.

Reported by Lumbum Tashi for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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