Sai Kung park plan likened to Israel's land grabs in Palestine

Indigenous villagers voice anger over proposal to include Sai Kung enclave in country park

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 06 November, 2013, 5:56am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 06 November, 2013, 5:56am

Indigenous villagers told lawmakers that a proposal to incorporate a coastal enclave into Sai Kung East Country Park was akin to "Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands".

At a hearing of the Legislative Council subcommittee on country parks yesterday, village representatives slammed the plan for Tai Long Sai Wan as "unjust".

The issue has spawned conflict between the need for ecological conservation versus protection of indigenous villagers' rights to build houses.

Thomas Lai, a villager who lodged a judicial review against the decision last month, told lawmakers the government was "stripping the human and political rights of indigenous Sai Wan villagers".

"Some of us are like wanderers without a home," he said. "We can't apply for public housing because we have the right to build 'small houses'. We enjoy almost no government benefits."

Tsang Yuk-on, chief of Mui Tsz Lam village, in Sha Tau Kok, was at the meeting to voice his support. "They are taking away our private property," he told lawmakers. "It is reminiscent of Israel's land grabs in Palestine."

On May 7, the chief executive and Executive Council approved a draft map that incorporated Sai Wan village into the country park. The decision was tabled in Legco yesterday and the hearing will continue today.

Pending lawmakers approval, the estimated 17 hectares, including privately owned sites, will formally become part of the park by the end of this year and be subject to the strictest land-use zoning.

If that happens, indigenous villagers fear it will be harder for men aged over 18 to exercise their right to apply to build a threestorey "small house" of no more than 2,100 square feet on ancestral land.

Civic Party lawmaker Kenneth Chan Ka-lok sought to reassure critics that the move would not affect small-house rights.

Green groups voiced their support for the government plans. Designing Hong Kong chief executive Paul Zimmerman, a member of the Save Our Country Parks green group, said designating ecologically sensitive enclaves as country park areas was the only way to protect such places from illegal development.

The decision would set a positive precedent for safeguarding other such enclaves, he said.