07/09/2007, 00.00
CHINA
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Local governments seize land fraudulently from farmers

The Minister of Land and Resources said that between 2004 and 2005, half of all land seizures were fraudulent. Cultivated lands are classified as non-agricultural and seized for public projects but are then sold to private entrepreneurs. Take the case of Qinghe, where farmers discovered that they have no legal rights.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The Minister of Land and Resources, Zhang Xinbao, said that between October 2004 and May 2005, local governments grabbed half the lands earmarked for construction through fraudulent means. Farmers do not have effective legal protection and even taking to the streets in protest has often proved useless, as proved by events in Qinghe.

Zhang said that often corrupt public officials re-classify cultivated lands as non-agricultural to facilitate their expropriation. Local governments offer minimal compensation to farmers and later sell their land at a high price without realizing the planned works.

In Qinghe county (Hebei), in the summer of 2006, the government decided to set up new public offices on 10 hectares of land including the local cemetery and cultivated land. The residents were not consulted and in October, the police started to destroy their crops and to open tombs. There were street protests and clashes and four arrests but the project went ahead. Once the government had seized the lands, it did not use the offices but instead sold them to private enterprises at high cost, refusing to offer any explanations.

Meanwhile, three months ago, the cultivated lands of Jian Xiechang and another two farmers from the village of Dongguan (Qinghe) were confiscated to build a road as part of the project. In April, the three took the government to court. But the case had not yet been decided and meanwhile the government seized the land and finished the road.

The farmers told the South China Morning Post that the government offered them 12,000 yuan (1,200 euros) per hectare of land per year but that this is very little. “We plant cotton on the land and even in a bad year we can make [24,000 yuan per hectare]. The price is unreasonable and we have to wait for them to give the money year after year,” Jiang said. Meanwhile, “they built a road and they have not given us a penny.”

While the farmers have no way to safeguard their rights, Beijing complains that in China, cultivated land is diminishing, and is now less than 1.21 million sq km, just about enough to satisfy domestic food needs.

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