Chinese authorities are blatantly grabbing farmland in a northern ethnic Uyghur village in China's volatile Xinjiang region after the farmers refused to accept monetary compensation less than one-tenth the market value of the properties, village residents say.
Most of the farmland which was seized and flattened contained crops which were ready for harvesting, according to residents of Baykol village, situated in Qaradong township in Ghulja city within the Ili prefecture.
The residents accused the village chief of corruption, saying he ordered the seizure of the land for projects initiated by Han Chinese, whose influx into Xinjiang they say has dampened business and other opportunities for the minority Uyghurs.
Farmer Turghun Turson said he was in Xinjiang's capital Urumqi when his weeping father telephoned him on May 18 to inform him that their 8-mu (1.3-acre) wheat farm had been flattened and seized overnight.
"So, I headed to Ghulja immediately," he told RFA's Uyghur Service. "We were told that our land was inside a national development zone."
Turghun Turson said the seizure came after failed talks with the government over compensation.
"There was no deal and now no one wants to take the responsibility of paying compensation," he said.
Based on a new city development plan, 39,000 yuan (U.S. $6,350) was offered as compensation for each mu, but village officials were selling the farms to Chinese companies for as high as 450,000 yuan (U.S. $73,400) per mu, some farmers claimed.
It is not immediately clear how many farmers in Baykol village were affected by the land takeover for construction projects such as for roads and real estate. More than 50 families were affected by just one project to put up a residential building near Ghulja city last year, sources said.
RFA map showing Ghulja city.
Ibrahim Hesen, another farmer in Baykol, said he received a "final" notice last week from local authorities ordering him to vacate his 15.5-mu (2.6-acre) berry farm within seven days, with a warning that it would be forcibly taken when project construction began.
The 72-year-old farmer and his son, Mirzehmet, have been camping at their farm since Thursday to "protect" it, saying they had invested 300,000 yuan (U.S. $49,000) since setting it up four years ago and would not let it go easily.
Last year, harvests from his farm netted 15,000 yuan (U.S. $2,450) per mu, but the authorities were offering only 39,000 yuan (U.S. $6,350) per mu in compensation, Mirzehmet said.
"I can make such money in just two years. How I can agree to the offer?” Mirzehmet asked.
“Now my father and I are prepared to face the worst in our efforts to protect our farm,” Mirzehmet said. "Let's see what happens in the next few days,” he added.
Baykol village chief Kaiser has been accused by farmers of being instrumental in the seizure of land, allocated to developers allegedly in return for bribes.
"Without the permission of our village head, nobody can do anything like this," one farmer said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
But Kaiser, when contacted by RFA, said farmers could convey their grievances through petitions to the relevant authorities.
"There are two sides to the story," he said. "The city, the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and the central government are dealing with this case. So the farmers can go to them to petition and you can also ask your questions to them," he said.Housing development
A non-farmer resident of Baykol village, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Uyghur farms are mostly taken over by housing developers who come from the Chinese cities.
"Right now, there is much discontent, anger, and tension about this issue. The farmers are all displeased with the government."
Hashim Qadir, a 52-year-old farmer from Baykol village, said many farmers give away their land on hearing assurances of handsome returns, which he said never come.
"Over the past 10 years, many farmers have lost their lands in Baykol," he said.
"When the government wanted to take our land, they would say, 'Oh, we will build factories and you will work there or we will develop a market and you will be given stores and you will be free from the hassle of farming, or we will develop a housing complex and you will be given apartments.'"
"Even though we did not believe in what they were saying, under pressure we gave up our land for a very small price," Hashim Qadir said.
"After a year or so, there are neither stores nor factories nor apartments and we find ourselves desperately looking for hard labor jobs in the cities or we take up temporary jobs from those who came from Chinese cities and lease farms in our region."
"They deceive us with empty words, and if we do not agree they will threaten us by saying that the land belongs to the state and we have to surrender it. When we go to petition the authorities, there is no one who will listen to us. They even forcibly take us back home."Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFA's Uyghur Service. Translated by Mamatjan Juma. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.