Saudis step in to Mecca date-palm battle
The Government of Saudi Arabia has stepped in to help a grandmother save Hong Kong's only fully grown date palm.
The 47-year-old tree, brought from Mecca, faces removal from Ma Yuk-lan's Yuen Long home to make way for a road project.
Mohammed al-Besher, the Saudi Ambassador to Beijing, said yesterday that an order had been delivered from Riyadh by a brother of King Fahd, Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz.
'We will cover the cost of removing the tree if the SAR Government decides to uproot it, and we will give her three trees as a gift,' the ambassador said.
The move follows a report in the South China Morning Post last month that detailed 69-year-old Mrs Ma's long struggle to protect the tree.
Mrs Ma has looked after the date palm for nearly half a century. It was brought to Hong Kong from Mecca by her mother-in-law and brother-in-law, an Imam or cleric, after a pilgrimage in 1951.
She is now fighting a last-ditch battle to keep it in place after the Territory Development Department decided to relocate it in June for a road-widening project, in order to meet the needs of the growing population of nearby Hung Shui Kiu.
Over 15 metres in height, it is the only fully grown tree of its kind in Hong Kong, according to plant experts. It has become a mascot of the local Muslim community.
The Saudi Government contacted Mrs Ma through its Beijing Embassy yesterday.
It said it would approach the SAR Government and that it would give Mrs Ma three palm trees from Mecca.
'They told me they sympathised with my situation, and I have their blessing to grow the trees,' Mrs Ma said.
'I'm grateful for what they're doing to help me. However, Saudi Arabia is too far away to do anything if the Government is not going to listen to me.'
Officials have offered to replant the tree in phases over two years at a cost of $1 million, at a site chosen by Mrs Ma. But she fears it may not survive the removal process.
Yuen Long district councillor Ken Chow Wing-kan, who is helping Mrs Ma in her bid to save the tree, said two options were being considered.
She could rent government land near her home in Yuen Long Ha Tsuen at a nominal $1 a year, with the Muslim community as trustee and herself as beneficiary. To do this, Mrs Ma must prove the tree has unique characteristics requiring preservation.
Alternatively, she could buy land owned by clansmen near her home. This would require consent from all the clansmen and Mrs Ma would have to bear the cost.
In either case, the Government would shoulder the cost of removal.