The protesters, many of them farmers, were seeking more compensation Three men were in custody in northern Shaanxi's Dingbian county yesterday after a massive protest by investors, who were angry at the way the local government had repossessed a number of privatised oil wells. The men were among about 10 people detained during a sweep on Sunday that involved more than 200 police and military officers, according to protest organisers. The others have been released. An officer from Dingbian Public Security Bureau confirmed that police had arrested some people but refused to comment on how many or why they were arrested. The protesters sent a team of representatives to Beijing early this week to petition the central government and seek redress for their grievances. The investors, mostly from Yulin and Yanan cities, accuse the local government of taking over the oil fields without providing proper compensation. Beginning in 1990, the local governments in northern Shaanxi had actively encouraged people to invest in a government-backed company that took over the region's thousands of small, low-yield and high-risk oilfields not controlled by state-owned oil giants. By 2000, more than 100,000 investors, many of them poor farmers who had borrowed from banks and loan sharks, had invested a total of about eight billion yuan (HK$7.52 billion) in the company. But in December 1999, the central government decided that the investment arrangement was too risky and ordered the local governments to unwind the company and to negotiate with the investors for the repossession of the wells. But local governments seemingly defied the order and continued to promote the oil-well investments. According to the China Business Post, the authorities approved bidding for an additional 600 sq km of oil wells and received more than 50 million yuan in investment after the 1999 ban. The investments were halted in early 2001 after pressure from the central government, with local authorities waiting until last Mach to begin taking back more than 430 private oilfields in 15 counties while negotiating with the investors. For three months, the negotiations yielded no progress. The stalemate drove more than 10,000 people to protest at the Dingbian county government offices in Yulin last Friday. Protest organisers said local authorities defused the protests with the promise of meeting the protesters later that night. But organisers said the meeting was fruitless. On Saturday, the protesters blocked roads and entrances to the oil wells to stop the seizures, which led to the arrests. 'We hope that the government will listen to our concerns,' said Feng Zhanrui, one of the investor representatives. 'The words of the local authorities are empty.'