Thousands of villagers in southern China clashed with police during a protest over what they say is inadequate compensation for farmland flooded by a dam project, according to news reports Wednesday.
Hong Kong’s Mingpao Newspaper reported that about 10,000 villagers repeatedly engaged police over a four-day period last week when they tried to petition the local government in Guangxi province’s Yantan Township, and to hold demonstrations near the dam.
Property disputes and illegal land grabs have recently accelerated as China’s economy expands at double-digit rates and farmland is gobbled up for factories, industrial parks and other lucrative developments.
A Yantan villager, identified by the surname Li, said that the situation had calmed down and that local officials were negotiating with the villagers.
“They are very poor. They don’t even have enough food,” Li told The Associated Press by telephone Wednesday. He refused to give his full name.
For four days beginning June 1, villagers carrying banners and chanting slogans surrounded the Yantan No. 2 Hydroelectric Power Station’s staff residence, and marched to the dam site to demand more compensation, the newspaper said.
Claims of graft, arrests
It said several hundred soldiers and armed police were trucked in to help contain the protests, and five villagers were injured in clashes.
There were arrests, though reports did not specify how many.
The paper said Yantan farmland was flooded several years ago when the dam caused the level of the local Red River to overflow its banks.
Villagers were enraged when the central government allegedly gave Yantan officials $370,000 last year to help compensate residents — but only a portion of it was distributed, according to the paper.
Villagers claimed that local officials pocketed some of the money.
‘Nothing happened here’
The Mingpao said that villagers had been sporadically protesting since April, but that last week’s demonstrations were the largest yet.
The government has been giving every villager a subsidy of $4 per month regardless of how much land they lost, it said.
Li estimated that about 3,000 villagers had protested last week, though he was unaware of anyone being injured.
Phones at the Yantan government office and public security bureau were unanswered Wednesday. A government official with the Dahua Yao Autonomous county, which oversees Yantan, said there had been no demonstrations.
“Nothing happened here. Everything is normal today,” said the official who, like many Chinese bureaucrats would only give his surname, Wang.