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Chinese Forces Open Fire on Civilians
Residents claim up to 30 killed or missing in most recent rural clash
David Kootnikoff (kaspian)     Print Article 
Published 2005-12-12 10:52 (KST)   
Chinese paramilitary forces continued on Dec. 11 to seal off the heavily guarded community of Dongzhou in Guangdong Province after opening fire on protesters for at least two consecutive nights last week.

Evolving Numbers

Initial reports emerged Dec. 7 from the BBC and in the Hong Kong local press about two protesters shot dead. By the next day the Washington Post reported 10 to 20 people died.

Radio Free Asia reported Dec. 9 that, "Estimates of those dead, feared missing, were between 20 and 30, with many unconfirmed reports circulating that bodies had been destroyed."

These evolving numbers reveal a recurring problem in China -- transparency. As in 2003 with the outbreak of SARS, and more recently with the toxic chemical spill in the northeastern province of Jilin, the Chinese authorities' habit of covering up incidents to protect themselves is wreaking havoc on public health, safety and security.

Residents Frightened

The South China Morning Post, Hong Kong's leading English language daily, reported Dec. 10 that relatives were hiding the bodies of loved ones, fearing authorities would seize them in an attempt to cover-up the killings. The paper published a photo on its front page of villager Lin Yutui with a bullet hole in his chest.

Other reports said relatives were offered money to turn over bodies or to remain quiet about the incident.

Speaking at a Media Conference at Hong Kong's City University Dec. 10, Guardian newspaper reporter Jonathan Watts confirmed that authorities were frightening villagers. He said a source in the village, when contacted, refused to speak further for fear of being discovered by authorities.

Land Confiscated, Compensation Inadequate

Dongzhou is a fishing community located 14 miles southeast of Shanwei city, about 150 kilometers northeast of Hong Kong in mainland China.

The issue that sparked the protests was the construction of a wind-driven electric generating plant on a hillside overlooking the village. Land was confiscated to build the project and the protesters were complaining that compensation was inadequate.

According to Radio Free Asia, villagers rejected government plans put forward in late October to pay out 600,000 yuan (US$74,000) a year in compensation for the land taken up by the project.

"Dongzhou has a population of around 30,000 people, so that works out at between 10 and 15 yuan (US$1.50) per person per month," a local representative told RFA.

"To put it bluntly, that's not even enough to buy toilet paper. We villagers think that this is unreasonable."

Under China's existing arrangements, rural authorities contract land villages, which in turn distributes it to individual households.

Discontent in rural China has been on the rise in recent months. Last summer, protests erupted in the village of Taishi, also in Guangdong, after residents grew frustrated with the way local leaders handled land issues. Authorities then sent in the police who conducted a ruthless crackdown.

Taishi's case was not an isolated one. According to official figures, demonstrations in China rose from 10,000 in 1994 to 74,000 involving more than 3.6 million people in 2004.

Officials Respond

After days of vacillating and refusing comment, officials on Dec. 10 stated three people were killed and condemned the confrontation as "a case of serious violence against the people's police."

The statement went on to say, "A very small number of instigators in Dongzhou... are the main culprits. They must shoulder the legal responsibility of the serious consequence of what's happened."

At the time of this writing, early morning of Dec. 12, reports said the Chinese government detained the commander of the forces that shot and killed the protesters.

Officials also claimed that protesters provoked the police shootings by throwing Molotov cocktails, but residents refute the claim.

Echoes of the Tiananmen Massacre

The official condemnation of the protesters bears a remarkable similarity to the response to the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre. At that time, authorities blamed a small group of trouble makers for being counter-revolutionaries.

The legacy of Taishi, Dongzhou and the many other rural revolts remains to be seen.

Related Articles
What Is Going On in Dongzhou?

©2005 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter David Kootnikoff

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