Angry villagers block public path in protest against park plan

Tai Long Sai Wan residents still fighting incorporation into country park

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 31 December, 2013, 3:35am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 31 December, 2013, 12:49pm

Members of a rural community have begun blocking the public from entering their village in protest at its incorporation into a surrounding country park.

Villagers were seen putting up a 100-metre-long metal fence yesterday to close off the only hiking path into the remote Sai Kung community of Tai Long Sai Wan. The path is a public right of way.

The village, which is a popular spot for nature lovers, hikers, surfers and tourists, will be closed to outsiders on weekdays "indefinitely", village chief Lai Yan said yesterday.

"We began closing off the road at 2pm to protest against the incorporation of Tai Long Sai Wan [into Sai Kung East Country Park]," he said.

"From today, it will be open only on Saturdays and Sundays."

Lai did not say when the operation would end, and said the village council collectively decided to block the path. Despite the presence of businesses catering to visitors, Lai said the blockade would not affect villagers as they could sustain themselves by growing their own produce.

"This road was built by us villagers with our bare hands," he said.

Last month, about 100 villagers and their supporters blocked the path during the Oxfam Trailwalker charity walk, disrupting the fundraising event.

It was one of many protests staged against the government's move to designate the enclave as country park land, which took effect yesterday. A judicial review of the change is pending.

Lawmakers earlier this month voted down a legislative amendment by rural power broker Lau Wong-fat to exclude the village from incorporation into the park.

Villagers believe the incorporation undermines their rights as property owners and indigenous residents of the New Territories.

"Pulling a stunt like blocking the footpath, [along] which the public has a right of way, will only make [the villagers and their supporters] look bad and lose any support they have," said Paul Zimmerman, co-convenor of the Save Our Country Parks alliance.

"It sends a message to the public that they are not serious about protecting the enclave."

Zimmerman said it was the government's job to enforce the public's right of way, but he said ending the blockade could be tricky as the footpath was on private land.