By DAMIEN GAYLE, DAily Mail, 14th December 2011
Police have laid siege to a village in southern China, blocking routes in and out and cutting off food supplies in an attempt to crush land protests.
Police started blocking roads to Wukan, a fishing village of 20,000 people in Guangdong province, late last week after violence flared over a villager who died in police custody.
Some food was allowed in from Monday but police have prevented villagers from fishing and supplies are running low, locals have told news agencies.
The siege seems to be an attempt to choke off a rebellion that began three months ago when, in protest at land seizures, furious villagers rampaged through the town, smashing cars, burning buildings and kicking out local officials and police.
‘Nobody dares to leave the village now. If you want to leave, you have to sign your name. We don’t know what that means. Most of us are just too scared to go out,’ Qiu Yankun, a resident, told the Associated Press by telephone.
Even children who would normally have gone to school in a nearby town were staying at home because the school buses were not allowed to enter the village, he said.
‘The fishermen are not allowed to leave the port, and the masons and bricklayers can’t do their jobs because the raw materials can’t be shipped in,’ Mr Qiu added.
Villagers, meanwhile, have been holding mass meetings in the village’s main square, arranging the running of the town and trying to decide their next move, according to an eyewitness report in the Daily Telegraph.
Around Wukan village and in much of the rest of Guangdong province, conflicts have been intense because the area is among China’s most economically developed, pushing up land prices.
Tensions rose in September when protests by hundreds of villagers over a land dispute turned violent, with residents smashing buildings, overturning vehicles and clashing with police.
Residents complained that their farmland was being sold by local officials to developers to build factories without their consent.
Local government offices were stormed, and Wukan’s residents chased out the Communist Party secretary who had ruled the village for three decades.
In an effort to cool relations in the aftermath, local government asked residents to appoint 13 of their number as intermediaries to negotiate a settlement.
But last Friday morning, four minibuses without licence plates stormed into Wukan and men in plain clothes seized five of the 13 representatives from a restaurant.
Fearful that police were planning on taking away more people, villagers set up roadblocks and mounted guards to stop them from entering, said Mr Qiu.
Police struck again in the early hours of Sunday, the Telegraph reported, when about 1,000 armed officers approached the entrance to the village.
After a two-hour clash, with police using tear gas and water cannon against villagers, officers retreated to the checkpoints which are now blocking access to Wukan.
Later that day, news emerged that one of the five seized men, Xue Jinbo, had died in police custody. Police told local media Mr Xue, 43, died of cardiac failure, but villagers suspect he was beaten.
Xue Jianwan, his 21-year-old daughter, told the Telegraph: ‘There were cuts and bruises on the corners of his mouth and on his forehead, and both his nostrils were full of blood.
‘His chest was grazed and his thumbs looked like they had been broken backwards. Both his knees were black.’ She added that authorities had refused to release the body.
The accounts of Mr Qui and the Daily Telegraph were similar to another from a man living in a neighbouring village, also spoken to by the Associated Press.
A villager surnamed Zhong in Guwei village who has been using dirt roads to bring food to his relatives in Wukan said there was a large protest involving hundreds of people on Tuesday in the Wukan village hall.
‘They were protesting the detention of four people including Xue Jinbo,’ Zhong said.
In an bid to show that suspects were being treated well, the local authorities released a statement today saying that each detainee was allowed a visit with family members.
According to a news article dated Saturday and posted on the Shanwei government’s website, two Wukan officials have been removed from their posts and a third has resigned.