Lands officers yesterday successfully entered a rural leader's recreational park in Yuen Long and tore down most of the remaining illegal structures inside, backed by a strong police presence.
Hong Kong's development minister said the move, coming five weeks after the facility became a high-profile example of inaction over illegal occupation of government land, upheld the administration's 'credibility in governance'.
Workers entered the park and zoo of influential Heung Yee Kuk member Leung Fuk-yuen under the escort of more than 100 policemen, a day after they ran into a fierce confrontation with angry villagers.
Key members of the rural body, including chairman Lau Wong-fat, visited the Tai Tong Lychee Valley during the demolition to show united support against what they called an unco-operative government.
Secretary for Development Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor defended the need to remove the illicit structures. Lam said her security counterpart, Ambrose Lee Siu-kwong, had promised her enough support from the police before the Lands Department took action. 'After all, it is not just about the government claiming back its own land,' she said. 'It is about law enforcement, and is a matter of governance credibility.'
Workers used a crane to pull down a two-storey-high entrance arch in the evening. According to Chinese customs, removing a signboard is seen as a taboo for businessmen. Other structures on government land, including a toilet and porches, were also destroyed.
The 12,000-square-metre park, which encroaches on Tai Lam Country Park, has occupied 5,000 square metres of government land illegally for 18 years, the Audit Commission reported last month. Since the report, both Leung and the department had removed some of the structures.
Kuk leaders at the scene yesterday said demolition was not the most suitable means of dealing with such land disputes in the New Territories, as the widespread problem had a unique historical background.
Kuk vice-chairman and lawmaker Cheung Hok-ming rejected claims that the rural body, which oversees the land rights of indigenous New Territories residents, exhibited weakness in front of the government.
'The kuk has never bowed to the government,' Cheung said.
He said villagers whose lands were hemmed in by government land should be allowed to pay rent so as to develop their site, or be offered unaffected land elsewhere.
Demolition failed to 'take landowners' feelings into account'.
Leung, who is chairman of Shap Pat Heung Rural Committee and a Yuen Long district councillor, said he was willing to co-operate.
But he repeated his disappointment that the government refused to approve his park's applications for short-term tenancy on the government land. The Lands Department said on Saturday that the outcomes of his applications were based on the objection of the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department.
A dozen villagers stood outside the park, but refrained from resistance - a day earlier they chased away a contractor's truck and flared up at lands officials. Lam said she was pleased with the local response.
Political commentator Dr James Sung Lap-kung of City University said the chain of events arising from the saga showed there was good communication between the government and the kuk behind the scenes. 'This could create good conditions for future discussions about village houses' illegal structures.'