Officials Withhold Land Compensation

Uyghur villagers say they have received only half of the money promised to give up their land.

2011.01.14
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Kucha305.jpg Uyghurs in Kucha county say government officials still owe them compensation for vacating their land.
RFA

Chinese authorities have withheld compensation to a large number of Uyghur families from China’s northwestern Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) for vacating their land to make way for a railway, according to representatives of the group.

The 56 families, from Kucha county in the XUAR’s western Aksu prefecture, were evicted when a Chinese state-owned company began construction on a railroad from the county seat to the Oqquraq Coal Mine in Aghu village where they lived.

Three village representatives, Rozi Abdul, 33, Ehmet Memet, 45, and Hesen Kurban, 34, are now in Beijing petitioning the central government for the fourth time since the group was evicted.

“In the beginning we resisted the construction in order to keep our land, but we failed because the state is too powerful. We were forced to agree to compensation of 9,860,600 yuan (U.S. $1.49 million) for 168 mu (28 acres) of land,” Abdul said.

The government says it has withheld U.S. $384,000. The villagers have received U.S. $532,000 so far and claim they are entitled to another U.S. $300,000 based on initial government assurances.

“According to the agreement, we are to receive 58,000 yuan (U.S. $8,750) per mu, but so far we have only received 25,000 yuan (U.S. $3,800), while the other 50 percent of the compensation is being held by local officials,” he said.

After demanding the remaining compensation from village officials, the villagers said, they were told that county officials had withheld the rest of the money, but were not told why.

According to the petitioners, Aghu village is one of the poorest villages in Kucha, a county of 450,000 residents.

The village is 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the county bazaar and has no industry to support the inhabitants other than farming, they said. Aghu village received electricity only last August in preparation for the railroad construction.

Official response

Aghu village party secretary Han Xiasheng confirmed by telephone that county officials had withheld the remaining compensation, saying part of the land occupied by the villagers belonged to the state.

“Yes, that is true,” he said. “The state provided the full amount of compensation promised. Village officials did not keep any money from the compensation, but the county did.”

Han added that 28 of the 168 mu of land were illegally expanded onto by the farmers.

“It was over the limit of what they should own. That is why the county treasury withheld 1.7 million yuan (U.S. $260,000). The County Land Control Department withheld 540,000 yuan (U.S. $82,000) and the County Grasslands Department withheld 280,000 yuan (U.S. $42,000),” he said.

Han did not explain why the latter two departments withheld compensation.

Villagers intimidated

Villager Ilyas Abbas said in an interview that village officials interrogated him when he asked why the group was only given 25,000 yuan per mu compensation instead of the 58,000 yuan earlier agreed upon.

The three petitioners in Beijing said that several of their family members and supporters back in Aghu village had been detained at the village office and threatened by local officials.

Abbas said that he and six others had been required to “receive education” at the village office every day from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., ever since the three petitioners had gone to Beijing.

He said three members of the group were relatives of the petitioners and four were supporters of the efforts to obtain the remaining compensation.

“I gave [the petitioners] 500 yuan (U.S. $75) for their travel expenses, because they were going to speak on our behalf in Beijing, but officials blamed me as a provocateur of an illegal petition.”

Abbas said that village authorities received an order from the State Petitioner Department on Dec. 17 requiring them to “properly solve the problem” within a month and report their results by Jan. 16.

“The village officials shoved the order at us and told us to call the three petitioners to return from Beijing and sign a form retracting our claim. They wanted us to report to Beijing that we regretted causing a controversy,” he said.

Farmer Yunus Kurban said the villagers had demanded their compensation using the appropriate legal procedures.

“While studying the laws, we realized that we are right in our case."

However, village chief Musa Rahman denied the charges in a telephone interview.

“We didn’t detain them, we were just educating them. They need to know how important stability is; otherwise their anger could harm public order in society.”

Harassing petitioners


In a telephone call Friday, the three petitioners said a group of seven villagers and Kucha county officials, including village chief Rahman, met them in Beijing and pleaded with them to return home, but they refused.

They then adopted an increasingly forceful attitude and threatened to use the police to repatriate them.

“We said that we wouldn’t go home until we get our compensation in full, but we’re not sure what will happen in the next few days,” said Rozi Abdul.

Dolkun Isa, the general secretary of the Munich-based World Uyghur Congress and originally from Aksu prefecture, called the compensation issue a “typical case” Uyghur farmers must face in the XUAR.

“The state development plan took their land and gave them light. But just as they became happy with electricity in their homes, they lose their bread,” Isa said.

“What has happened in Aghu village is becoming increasingly common [in the XUAR]. Uyghurs are facing a two-front attack from the state development plan and the corruption of local officials.”

Reported and translated by Shohret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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