Guangdong villagers prepare to take protest over land grab to the capital

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 24 March, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 24 March, 2007, 12:00am

Villagers in Foshan , Guangdong province, are planning to take their protest against a land grab by local officials to Beijing, hoping to take advantage of a relaxation of controls on dissent following the end of the annual sessions of the NPC and CPPCC last week.

Luo Jilun , a 50-year-old villager from Sanshan village in Nanhai district, said he had escaped from his home town to neighbouring Guangxi to prepare for the trip to Beijing after local officials relaxed their monitoring of the farmers after the two top meetings in the capital.

'I am here consulting our lawyers about preparing more evidence of local officials' wrongdoings in taking our land,' Mr Luo said yesterday from Beihai , in Guangxi.

He said only one other villager would accompany him to represent more than 8,000 villagers in his home town because they wanted to save money.

'All of the villagers became penniless after the 2005 land grab,' Mr Luo said. 'We are farmers. We can't live anymore without land.'

In 2005, local officials decided to sell more than 1,200 hectares of land in the village to overseas investors for the construction of a logistics complex. Villagers were paid compensation for the crops on the land with one-off payments of 4,170 yuan for each adult and 2,700 yuan for children.

Riots erupted after villagers found the officials had no intention of paying compensation for their land. On May 31, 2005, officials used 4,000 armed policemen and local security officers to sweep crops from the fields, causing villagers to lose at least 8 million yuan.

In January this year, the municipal government sent more than 1,000 riot police to clear a demonstration site that had been set up by villagers to stop construction on their farmland.

Chen Huiying , another villagers' representative in Sanshan who was released from a labour camp in January after serving a year for an 'illegal gathering', said she was warned last week not to talk to overseas media, 'otherwise they would teach me and my two daughters a lesson'.

Ms Chen, who said she was a daughter of a loyal party veteran, said she could not understand how Communist Party officials had become so corrupt.

'I want Mr Luo to ask the State Council for me, is Premier Wen Jiabao's promise to farmers just beautiful words to cheat villagers?' Ms Chen asked.

'I just can't understand how Beijing can turn a blind eye to local officials' wrongdoings in using force to deal with a peaceful demonstration by villagers.'

The Study Times, a weekly magazine run by the party school, yesterday urged local officials to avoid using force when dealing with the growing number of protests on the mainland.

'Force should only be used in cases where protesters violate laws and should be avoided as it could just escalate the clashes,' the newspaper said.