Sunday, November 19, 2006

Police Close in on South China Hostage Dispute

HONG KONG—Hundreds of police have moved in Dongzhou village near the southern Chinese port of Shanwei after a six-day standoff in which villagers detained eight officials to demand the release of a local activist, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reports.

“They began moving in yesterday afternoon and positioned themselves along the highway. The number grew larger and larger today,” one villager told RFA’s Mandarin service Thursday. “Fire engines are on standby.”

On Nov. 9, Dongzhou police detained villager Chen Qian, described by neighbors as in his fifties and busy hanging anti-corruption banners in the village when he was taken into custody.

Hundreds of villagers went to the neighborhood committee the following day to demand his release and took eight village cadres hostage when they refused, villager said.

“We told them that we would release the eight of them in exchange for one of us. But the authorities rejected our demand. We are keeping the eight cadres in the village. They are being fed,” another villager said in an interview.

Another resident told RFA’s Cantonese service there had been a large influx of police around midday Thursday. “One of our representatives was detained so we asked for him to be released but to no avail,” she said. “So we took hostage eight low-level government officials.”

“Now there are a large number of police outside and we daren’t go out,” she added.

Local authorities have indicated that Chen Qian was to be indicted, but the charges against him are unknown.

A local Public Security Bureau official declined to comment in detail.

“I cannot comment on the situation,” the official said, contacted by telephone. Asked if the armed police had orders to use force to end the situation, he said: “The leaders are in discussions on the situation. I am not clear on the details.”

Another villager said Internet cafes in and around Dongzhou, which is in the eastern part of Guangdong province, had been ordered shut by local authorities.

“They were all shut down. They did not want the local news to get out. Internet café owners received an order yesterday afternoon. They were told not to open for business on Thursday,” the villager said.

Another villager, surnamed Lin, said local residents feared worse bloodshed than on Dec. 6, 2005. In that incident, according to China’s official Xinhua news agency, police opened fire “in alarm” on protesters who attacked them with home-made explosives, killing at least three people.

But the villagers, who were protesting what they said was inadequate compensation for land used to build a power station, said police fired first on an unarmed crowd, and that the death toll was higher than official reports admitted

“We are fearful that it will end in a worse way than the incident last year. There are public security and armed police. We are all hiding in our houses,” Lin said.

Original reporting in Mandarin by Ding Xiao and in Cantonese by Lee Kin-kwan. RFA Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. RFA Cantonese service director: Shiny Li. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie. Written in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.