HONG KONG—Hundreds of Tibetan residents of a quake-hit region of China's remote western Qinghai province have been protesting since Monday over attempts by the local government to remove them from their land.
They gathered outside government offices in Yushu's Gyegu township with banners after the government made public reconstruction plans in which some people would be relocated.
"The important thing is that in the quake-hit area, a lot of the local people bought land here on which to build their houses," a monk from a local monastery, Tsering Gyatso, said.
"After the earthquake, the government wanted to move them all out to another place to rebuild their houses, and [the Tibetans] said no, they would build them themselves, and that they didn't want the [government's] land either."
He said the government has allocated 80 square meters (860 square feet) of living space per household, in spite of the fact that some families' existing plots were much larger, as much as 1,000 square meters (11,000 square feet).
"For some of them, their life savings were invested in that land," Tsering Gyatso said.
A Tibetan protester said the people to be displaced are also unhappy with the location of the land being offered.
"It's definitely much farther away than the place we were in before the earthquake struck," he said.
Land considered unsafe
An official who answered the phone at the police control center in the disaster zone said he was unaware that there had been a protest of several hundred local people, and didn't know if any Tibetans had been detained as a result.
However, a local government official who asked to remain anonymous said that some of the land had suffered cracking and subsidence in the earthquake, and wasn't considered safe for rebuilding purposes.
"When the [disaster reconstruction] plans came out for Gyegu township, and after the land had been surveyed by experts, they said people couldn't be allowed to live there because of the fault line," the official said.
The reconstruction plans had been revised to turn some of the residential areas of the quake-hit town into a green belt, he added.
"Some of those houses were the result of decades of toil by local people, and then the government was saying that they couldn't build houses and they couldn't use the land."
He confirmed local plans to relocate some of the residents of Gyegu, where the deadly 7.1 magnitude earthquake on April 14 killed 2,698 people and left 270 missing, by official count.
"That's for sure," he said. "This is a policy from higher up. The actual details haven't been finalized yet."
"The reconstruction plan is still at the consultation stage," he said.
But he denied that protests had taken place.
"It's more of a petition," the official, who is himself a Tibetan, said. "There were two or three hundred people there."
He said the final decision on the use of the land would rest with the provincial government.
"The government is in the process of collecting opinions, and will report back to the provincial government," the official said. "But some of the places are really uninhabitable and can't be built on."
Local protesters said they are still waiting for a definite response from the government to their demands for compensation.
One local Tibetan named Phuntsok said the township government had called in armed police from Sichuan and other provinces to patrol the area in an attempt to intimidate protesters.
China recently announced plans to spend 32 billion yuan (U.S. $4.68 billion) on the reconstruction of areas hit by the massive earthquake, in which the Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture was hardest hit, official media reported.
Under the plan, the government will also offer tax breaks for companies and financial institutions in the region that back rebuilding of infrastructure and homes and create jobs, the official Xinhua news agency said.
Original reporting in Cantonese by Hai Nan and in Mandarin by Qiao Long. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Cantonese service director: Shiny Li. Translated from the Chinese and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.