A dispute over land ownership turned nasty yesterday when a group of unidentified men cut down a dozen mature fruit trees on a private site in a tiny New Territories community.
The men brought chainsaws to the remote hamlet of Kap Lung, in Tai Lam Country Park near Shek Kong village, where they worked from 9am until early afternoon felling the trees. They told villagers they would return today to cut down more trees.
'Having the trees cut is as painful as cutting my flesh,' said a villager who said she had planted the trees about 30 years ago but refused to give her name.
She suspected somebody had also recently poisoned much of the surrounding land with herbicide, as dead and dying vegetation covers much of the area.
Furthermore, empty detergent bottles were recently found near the village's pool of irrigation water, which is meant for the fruit trees, and villagers are now afraid to use it on the trees.
Only two families live in the hamlet, which has no access road for vehicles, and residents said the destruction had frightened them.
They also said they suspected the attack on the trees was connected to a dispute involving a private company that claims to own the site.
The land is at the centre of a legal dispute launched by one of the families that lives there.
The community made news headlines last year after it emerged that village head Tsang Hin-keung had persuaded the government to widen an existing footbridge to give vehicles access.
However, villagers fear Tsang plans to use the bridge to transport materials to build a columbarium or housing - and will ultimately force them to move away. A columbarium is a facility holding funerary urns.
Land searches show Tsang - chairman of the Pat Heung Rural Committee - has bought over a dozen plots of land through his company since 2007. Ho Pui-han, a spokesman for a columbarium concern group, said he feared the destruction was the prelude to an urn niche development. 'We are now looking into whether some illegal columbarium operators might own some of the land in the village,' she said.
It was not the first time trees have been cut down by unidentified men, but no government departments or police officers have been able to help because tree felling on private land is not illegal.
Tsang could not be reached for comment yesterday.