Villagers killed in clash over medicinal fungus

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 18 July, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 18 July, 2007, 12:00am

At least six people were killed and more than 100 injured in an armed conflict between two Tibetan groups over the right to collect a valuable medicinal ingredient in Sichuan , a rights group and local people said yesterday.

The incident happened on Friday when villagers from Dengpo and Sangdu in Daocheng county clashed over the collection of Chinese caterpillar fungus on a bridge in the county after the local government refused to mediate in their dispute, the Hong Kong-based Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy said.

It said some villagers in Dengpo had attacked Sangdu residents with semi-automatic rifles and hand grenades and caused six deaths and 110 injuries.

More than 1,000 Sangdu villagers had gathered outside the county government office on Saturday to demand officials catch those responsible for the attack, the rights group said. The provincial government sent 1,000 armed police to Daocheng on Saturday to search Dengpo village, but no arrests had been made so far.

A businesswoman from Yanan in Shaanxi province , whose family runs a caterpillar fungus business in Daocheng county, said she had even heard reports that 13 people had been shot dead and that more than 50 people were still being treated in local hospitals.

'All of them suffered gunshot and explosion wounds,' the woman said. 'We've always heard about such disputes because villagers have been competing for sources of rare herbs for years, but local officials have been reluctant to solve the problem.'

The woman said wholesale prices for the fungus had increased to 40,000 yuan a kilogram in Daocheng county this year, compared with 35,000 yuan last year, because of difficult growing conditions.

She said supplies of good-quality fungus had diminished steadily over the past six months.

Another resident said hundreds of armed police equipped with riot-control gear had been patrolling the streets since the rioting.

'We were all shocked after hearing the news because all guns and explosives were supposed to have been banned here since the 1950s,' the villager, who refused to be named, said.

'But I think people in the county town are safe because Tibetans would not open fire on anyone arbitrarily.'

The county government and local police all refused to comment yesterday.

The people in Daocheng are mainly Tibetans and villagers in Dengpo and Sangdu rely on picking Chinese caterpillar fungus for their living. Because the boundaries of the two villages are not clear, both sides have complained to the county government about fungus poaching by the other side in the past.

The rights group said farmers from the two villages had visited the county government office again on Friday to seek its help in solving their dispute, but their pleas had been rejected. The clash happened on their way home.