Villagers arrested after dam relocation protest

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 March, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 March, 2009, 12:00am

More than 40 villagers relocated to make way for the Xiaowan Dam were arrested during confrontations with police in Yunnan's Mengsa township on Saturday, according to witnesses.

The villagers beat up several township officials during a town-hall meeting about relocation compensation and then protested outside a government building to demand direct dialogue with municipal leaders.

Around 300 police soon arrived and arrested more than 40 villagers who refused to disperse after a warning, Mengsa resident Wang Wenyuan said.

'No serious clashes happened during the arrest, because most of us were directing our anger at the government officials, not the police,' Mr Wang said.

He said some of those arrested had been released by yesterday, but he did not know how many remained in custody.

The township government called representatives of relocated families to a meeting to hear officials explain why some relocation payouts had not yet reached the intended recipients.

According to Mr Wang, some younger people started arguing with officials and a fight broke out. Some officials were beaten by village representatives, but none seriously, he said.

No one from Mengsa or Gengma county, which oversees the township, was available for comment on the case.

A member of township staff said leaders were at a meeting and she did not know when they would return to the office.

About 160 villagers from Pinghe village in Dasi township were relocated to Mengsa before the Lunar New Year to make way for the construction of the Xiaowan Dam on the Lancang River.

Mr Wang said that although the government had promised to pay villagers a one-off 2,700 yuan (HK$3,065) relocation fee, the payouts they received were about 30 per cent short of the promised total. Villagers' complaints had fallen on deaf ears since January and built-up anger triggered the clash over the weekend.

Another villager, Wang Shaojun, confirmed the riot took place and blamed it on the failure of township and county officials to properly compensate farmers.

'They said the delay was caused by village officials not completing villager registration forms on time.

'As a farmer, I only know that I have done everything I can do, but I still could not get my money as promised,' he said.

Relocation disputes have become frequent as the mainland experiences a huge boom in hydropower construction projects along major rivers.

The Xiaowan Dam has been a controversial project and many environmentalists have urged Beijing to abandon it because of the potentially severe damage to the Lancang River's ecology. The dam was started in 2002 and is scheduled to be completed in 2012, with a capacity of 4,200MW.