Monastery chief sets fire to arm in row over Hong Kong heritage site

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 16 June, 2015, 1:46pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 17 June, 2015, 2:52am

A former resident of the nowdemolished Tiu Keng Leng squatters' area, who has been staying in the only building remaining there, set fire to his arm yesterday and threatened to jump off the roof to protest against a plan to evict him.

The extreme action was reminiscent of his three-metre jump onto a crowd of police 19 years ago, the last time he was forced to leave his home.

The man, Lau Kin-kwok, 55, is the chief of the local Po Yin Fat Yuen monastery, which was moved within the area formerly known as Rennie's Mill after the British colonial government cleared out the shanty town of Kuomintang refugees and former nationalist soldiers that once existed there.

In 1996, Lau was a squatter who fiercely resisted the government's attempt to move the shanty town, until his monastery was moved to the old Rennie's Mill Police Station. He has been leasing a part of it since 1999.

Under the terms of his agreement with the city, the annual rent is just HK$1, but either side has the right to terminate the lease with three months' notice.

In 2013, Sai Kung District Council decided to convert the old police station into a history showroom. The council negotiated with Lau and identified two potential relocation sites for him, but he has refused to move out.

Finally, at 8am yesterday, Lands Department staff members arrived to evict Lau and his brother and sister-in-law, all of whom lived in the building.

After Lau's family members were removed from the site, he climbed onto the building's roof. Police cordoned off the road from the building to the nearby Haven of Hope Hospital.

At about 10.30am, Lau was seen setting fire to a piece of cloth tied onto his left arm. Firefighters sprayed water at him and he removed the cloth after 20 seconds.

After a 3½-hour stand-off, police and paramedics took Lau away in an ambulance. A Queen Elizabeth Hospital spokeswoman said last night that his condition was serious.

A department spokeswoman said Lau's lease had expired in November and had already been extended for a month and a half to give him more time to move. The department issued a notice in February requiring him to leave by March 5 and he did not respond, she said.

Lau made headlines in 1996 when he jumped three metres from the top of a house onto a crowd of police officers as the government attempted to clear the squatters from Rennie's Mill. He was not hurt but a sergeant suffered neck injuries. Lau was fined HK$3,000 for common assault and obstructing police.