Aug 04, 2010

Tibet: Protest against Compensation for Earthquake Damage

Tibetan farmers have set up a protest outside the ruins of their homes against the Chinese government’s response to last April’s earthquake. They oppose the clean-up and resettlement programme and fear they will have their land taken away from them without fair compensation.


Below is an article published by Radio Free Asia:

Tibetan farmers and nomads in China's remote western province of Qinghai are camping out on what's left of their homes following April's devastating earthquake, in protest at a government clean-up and resettlement program, residents said.

Xiangjia, a resident of Gyegu township in the quake-hit Tibetan prefecture of Yushu, said local residents had set up tents to keep watch. Attempts to begin clearing the rubble and ruined homes from the areas had been stalled by the Tibetans' sit-in, he said.

"They started sending out officials on July 24 [2010]," said another resident, Wang Jieze.

"They were going to do six days of ideological work, and then start work on Aug. 1 to clear away all the rubble from the collapsed homes."

"On Aug. 1—once the ideological work, clean-up, and registration processes were complete—they were going to end the negotiation process whether the Tibetans agreed with the outcome or not."

The government has divided Yushu Autonomous Prefecture into 10 sections, dispatching 50 officials to each area, including those in dispute.

The mood in Gyegu is tense and expectant, with rumors that the government would begin clearing collapsed homes in August, Wang said.

Wang said the proposed levels of compensation had already been approved by the central government in Beijing but were not released to the public for fear of creating unrest among Tibetan inhabitants.

Sources said that according to the Qinghai post-quake reconstruction plan, the previously bustling and prosperous streets around People's Road, Hongwei Road, and Tuanjie Road are to be razed, making way for newly constructed tourist areas and parks.

The plan would affect around 60 percent of the settled population, or tens of thousands of people, sources said.

Calls to the Gyegu township government went unanswered during office hours Friday.

Meanwhile, hundreds of households from the nearby village of Xinzhai, four kilometers outside Gyegu, are camped outside township government offices in protest at plans to take over their land, residents said.

A Gyegu township resident identified as Sonam said 200-300 residents of Xinzhai village had gathered outside the government offices in recent days to lodge a petition against plans to redevelop their village, which is largely home to nomadic and herding families.

The villagers said that land which had commanded a price of 900,000 yuan (U.S. $133,000) per mu (0.16 acre) before the devastating earthquake in April is now being compensated at a rate of 90,000 yuan (U.S. $13,300) per mu.

"We are all farmers, so we are talking about large tracts of land," Sonam said.

"The government wants to take it back from us. The people who own small plots of a few mu have all gone to the government offices because they have a problem with it."

"There are a lot of people there," she added. "About half the village has turned out. Maybe 200 or 300 households. They go in relays all the time apart from during religious festivals."

She said current government plans will provide apartments of 80 square meters to earthquake victims who had lost homes for which they possess legal documentation. Some of them would be allowed to build new homes on their existing plots of land, with government help.

But others are being resettled in a different area by officials, who have been going from door to door seeking signatures for the new scheme. Authorities have not provided details of the proposed resettlement to these quake-hit families.

Xiangjia said Hongwei Road and People's Road residents had made similar protests and petitions at government offices, and that their numbers were far greater than those in Xinzhai.

Xiangjia said the government had offered Hongwei and People's Road residents 9,000 yuan (U.S. $1,300) per square meter in compensation, but most business owners are dissatisfied with the offer.

In June, Yushu officials confirmed local plans to relocate some of the residents of Gyegu, where a deadly 7.1 magnitude earthquake on April 14 killed 2,698 people and left 270 missing, by official count.

China recently announced plans to spend 32 billion yuan (U.S. $4.68 billion) on the reconstruction of areas hit by the massive earthquake, in which the Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture was hardest hit, official media reported.

Under the plan, the government will also offer tax breaks for companies and financial institutions in the region that back rebuilding of infrastructure and homes and create jobs, China's official Xinhua news agency said.