updated 12/15/2005 11:38:00 AM ET 2005-12-15T16:38:00

BEIJING — Chinese police said Wednesday that they were holding eleven people accused of beating up 16 Catholic nuns in an apparent land dispute.

The incident occurred last month in northwestern China and was strongly condemned by the Vatican.

The U.S.-based China Aid Association monitoring group says as many as 40 men armed with wooden sticks attacked the nuns in an attempt to get them to leave their church, which was scheduled to be demolished. China Aid says the men were hired by the local government.

Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls denounced the violence against “defenseless nuns.”

Land disputes are common in China. Police last week shot and killed villagers protesting land seizures in a coastal village northeast of Hong Kong. The government says three people were killed, but residents say as many as 20 died.

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