May 12, 2005

Tibet: Farmers Appeal against Compensation for Loss of Homes and Land

Tibetan farmers along the route of China's Qinghai-Tibet railway are appealing against eviction from their homes and the amount of compensation offered
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Tibetan farmers along the route of China's much-vaunted Qinghai-Tibet railway are appealing against eviction from their homes and the amount of compensation offered by the U.S.$3.1 billion infrastructure project.

An official in Toliung Dechen county, near the regional capital of Lhasa, confirmed to RFA's Tibetan service that there were conflicts over the 1,142-km railway, which will link Golmud in the western province of Qinghai to the remote Himalayan region.

"There are variety of situations," the official told RFA. "There are also some Tibetans farmers whose houses are not in good repair, or whose fields do not actually lie in the path of the railtrack construction, but who want to move and are demanding compensation."

"Some claim that their irrigation is affected, and they also want to relocate and get compensation," he said.


'Nothing really helps'

A resident of Dongkar, in the same county, said representatives of local families had already tried to petition the authorities regarding the planned relocations, which will make way for the laying of tracks, which are expected to reach Lhasa by the end of this year, officials say.

"The Tibetan farmers went to different departments, including the Tibetan Autonomous Region government, to appeal but nothing really helps," an elderly woman from the affected area told RFA.

She said that a local Party secretary who had tried to speak out on behalf of his community had been stripped of his post. "So nobody dares to speak out," she said.

Local residents said that while the authorities had promised to relocate them, they would still have no means of making a living in the new location.

"All this is what they call the great western development plan. We are victims of these developments. The rail track which is a major part of development as explained by the Chinese falls through my house and farmland," the woman said.

She said authorities had promised to build new houses of brick or stone elsewhere for the farmers, but that only some had been completed. Construction was supposed to have begun on May 4, she added.

Chinese officials had already been to measure her house and land, with scant interpretation provided in the Tibetan language for local residents, few of whom speak Mandarin, she said.


Officials hail project

"It is very sad to move. I was born here and many of my generation lived in the same house and tilled the same land. It is my wish to die at the same place where I was born. If fact most older Tibetans cherish the same wish," the woman said.

"Our only source of income is land. Those who work in offices or other jobs have a steady monthly income, but we don't. Now when our land is taken for the contruction of railways, we have nothing to live on. It is said that we will be compensated about 3,500 yuan (U.S.$422) and given a 50,000 yuan (U.S.$6,000) loan, but nothing is definite."

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao visited model workers on the railroad to mark International Labor Day on May 1. The high-altitude railway is being lauded in the official media as a pioneering engineering project enabling faster economic growth in the remote region.

But critics say it will remove the protection that isolation afforded the Tibetans and their culture, speeding up migration by Han Chinese attracted by stronger economic growth in the region, and consolidating China's military presence there.

"China's western development strategy has brought great changes to the regions and should be continued," the official Xinhua news agency quoted Wen as saying during his tour, which also took in Qinghai Province.

"The central government has been proved right in highlighting ecological protection, infrastructure construction, energy resources, science and technology, education and health improvement in its western development strategy," Wen said.

Trial operation of the railway is slated to begin July 1, 2006. The railway has already reached Gulu, a town in Nagqu County in northern Tibet, the last stop before Lhasa. After it opens in 2007, the railway will link Lhasa with Qinghai's provincial capital Xining and other major Chinese cities.

Source: Radio Free Asia