Thursday, November 09, 2006

Angry Chinese Villagers Hold Hundreds Hostage

HONG KONG--Thousands of angry villagers have surrounded a granary in southern China, holding hostage several hundred guests at the building's opening ceremony and demanding payment for land they say they were forced to sell at below-market rates, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reports.

In the afternoon of Nov. 8, village sources told RFA's Mandarin service, officials from various levels of government and more than 100 overseas Chinese from Thailand, Germany, England, and Hong Kong attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony at the just-completed granary built on what had been farmland in Sanzhou village, in Guangdong province.

At around 4:00 p.m., thousands of Sanzhou villagers surrounded the granary to prevent attending officials and guests from leaving. Early Thursday local time, Nov. 9, approximately 300 people remained trapped in the granary's administrative building, the sources said.

At 1:00 a.m. local time, some 4,000 villagers remained at the scene, witnesses said.

Hundreds protest.
"A little over 100" guests were inside the building, a woman surnamed Chen said. "Altogether around 300 people. Some [officials] are from the central government, some are provincial officials."

Asked what the villagers were demanding, she replied, "We want money, money for our land."

Another villager, who asked to be identified only as Liang, said, "There are a lot of high officials, and foreign guests from Thailand and Germany and England and Hong Kong inside."

When confronted by the villagers, Liang said, the foreign guests "did not know what to do. They feel the peasants are in really bad shape. The peasants have lost their land, and they can't find other jobs. One guest said, 'Now that I have seen your plight, I will not ship any grain to this granary.'"

Several villagers said several hundred police were stationed near the granary.

"The police are here, but they cannot touch us," Liang said. "The Dec. 6 Shanwei incident of last year - police were mobilized to crack down on peasants - it had a lot of repercussions. Since then police have not been allowed to crack down on peasants."

The Shunde Public Security Bureau, about 5 kms away, confirmed the incident. "The police are already there," a Public Security official who asked not to be named said, without confirming how many officials or villagers were involved.

Land sold to private investors.
Since 1992, agricultural land in Sanzhou village has been expropriated or sold to private investors. Each villager so far has received around 6,000 yuan for compensation. In late 2005, more than 10,000 villagers asked the village party committee to make public the information on land sales.

It was discovered then that more than half of the village's 9,000 mu (1,482 acres) of land has been sold.

A male villager surnamed Liang told RFA-Mandarin reporter Ding Xiao: "According to land sales contracts, land was sold for more than 130,000 yuan per mu. But the villagers only got 35,000 per mu."

Villagers suspect local officials of corruption and have petitioned higher-level officials without success.

On Dec. 6 last year, at least three villagers in another Guangdong area, Shanwei, were killed when police fired on a crowd of protesters. China’s official Xinhua news agency said the three died during the violence, after being shot by police “in alarm.”

Courtesy of Radio Free Asia.