03/31/2009, 00.00
CHINA
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Military base replacing Muslim cemetery. The people are rising up

In Hainan, the military is beginning to demolish an ancient cemetery belonging to the Hui Muslims, in order to build a base there. More than 2,00 residents have taken to the streets, and are blocking the work. The population says that it is "unthinkable" to violate the bones of their ancestors, and that the Chinese navy is worse "than the Japanese invaders."

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) - The entire village of Huixin (near the city of Fenghuang, municipality of Sanya, on the island of Hainan) is rising up against the Chinese navy, which wants to demolish their ancient cemetery in order to build military facilities there.

Dozens of inhabitants are now watching over the cemetery day and night, out of fear that the graves could be demolished surreptitiously. The residents, who are Muslims of the ethnic Hui minority, say that they have been living in the area since the Tang dynasty (618-907), and that many tombs date back to that era.

Hai Shihao, deputy secretary of the Communist Party in Huixin, explains to Radio Free Asia that the navy wants about 100 mu (6.67 hectares) of land in order to create a training area for parachute troops at the navy base near the Sanya airport.

The navy began the work without notifying the residents, who learned what was happening only in December, when many of the tombs had already been profaned. The people took to the streets, damaged military property, and stopped the work. The navy reoccupied the area to resume the work between the end of February and the beginning of March, and some of the tombs were damaged. But more than 2,000 people took to the streets, and the work was halted again. Now the military is offering compensation.

Hai says that the navy "were prepared to find a new location to which the tombs could be moved. They were also prepared to pay compensation of 6-7,000 yuan (6-700 euros) per tomb . . . We definitely can't accept this. We can't agree to it. The tombs of our Muslim ancestors cannot be moved. Ancient tombs should be given protection. No one should be allowed to move them or to dig them up."

The navy has long intended to create the training base, but did not establish contact with the village ahead of time. There are about 8,000 Hui in the area, whose ancestors came as merchants and settled there during the Tang period.

Sources in the local government say that they are trying to resolve the problem with dialogue and in a peaceful manner, but warn that the navy's patience will not last forever.

But the residents seem resolute. One resident, named Ma, says that the violation of the tombs "is unthinkable . . . Even the Japanese wouldn't have dug up the bones of the dead during their occupation of China" (In the photo: a woman takes the bones of her ancestors away from a destroyed tomb).

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