Rural land grab protests spread

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 25 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 25 September, 2011, 12:00am


Massive clashes between hundreds of riot police and people stripped of their land at a village in Lufeng city, Guangdong, have sparked protests in neighbouring communities over land grabs.

At Longtou, or Longguang, village, bulldozers moved in to destroy hundreds of metres of fences enclosing some 600 mu (40 hectares) of farmland, after villagers voted on Friday to restore access to the land, which they used to own and farm. They agreed to spend 5,000 yuan (HK$6,000) on hiring two bulldozers and an excavator.

The protest came two days after the violence in Wukan village, a few kilometres away, where dozens of locals and riot police were injured, and six police cars were overturned and a handful others had their windows smashed.

'We would have hardly taken such relatively radical action had there not been the riot in Wukan a day or two before,' said a Longtou resident, who said he had taken part in the destruction of the wall around the farmland, but declined to be identified for fear of reprisals.

'In fact, fellow peasants in my village have kept on petitioning and petitioning for years for the return of our farmland, which had been sold to an enterprise by village officials at an extremely low price years ago,' said the man, in his 30s.

Meanwhile, residents of nearby Longtan village carried banners and stood by a road between downtown Lufeng and Wukan, protesting the seizure of their farmland without compensation.

'More than 10 mu of farmland, which belonged to over 10 households in my village, was grabbed jointly by the water conservation bureau and a local middle school early this year,' said a villager, who identified himself as Liu.

Another local said he understood that residents in villages such as Shenchong, Bailin, Yanjing and Wailong all had grievances over the sale of their farmland.

In an effort to curb further unrest, nearly 100 officials from about 30 villages were summoned to an urgent meeting at the Donghai Township government office on Friday evening, a village-level official said on the condition of anonymity yesterday.

'In the face of the clashes in Wukan village, all of us were ordered to settle all kinds of issues as much as we can and as soon as possible,' said the official, who attended the gathering.

'The township officials warned us to spare no effort in avoiding the escalation of discontent among our fellow villagers,' the official said, adding that discontent over land requisition was common in Lufeng.

He said the issue had largely been created by the corruption of village-level officials who grabbed villagers' land with the promise of building a hotel or setting up a business, while locals were told they would receive dividends in future.

'However, quite a number of the officials responsible for the management of assets ... turned out to be corrupt. As a result, many residents received nothing or got only a symbolic and meagre amount of bonuses over the past couple of decades.'

While protests erupted elsewhere, villagers in Wukan gathered yesterday to voice their disappointment with officials who had turned their farmland over to developers.