Copyright The New York Times
By HOWARD W. FRENCH
Published: December 10, 2005
SHANWEI, China, Dec. 10 Ã³ Four days after a lethal assault on protesters by paramilitary forces, a village in southern China remained under heavy police lockdown on Saturday.
Residents of the village, Dongzhou, interviewed by telephone from this nearby city, said the police continued to make arrests and bar outsiders from their hamlet.
The authorities have still not commented in any detail on the incident, in which villagers said as many as 20 residents of Dongzhou were shot and killed by security forces on Tuesday night as they protested plans for a power plant, in the deadliest use of force by Chinese authorities against ordinary citizens since the Tiananmen massacre in 1989. Residents of Dongzhou said at least 42 people were missing.
Reached by telephone, the deputy propaganda chief of Shanwei, which is 15 miles to the north and has jurisdiction over the village, said the national government would issue its first statement about the incident no later than Sunday. Ã¬We will soon have a response to this, very soon Ã³ no later than tomorrow,Ã® said the official, Liu Jingmao. Ã¬By then, this thing will be made public in the mainstream media and within the province.Ã® Asked what he meant by Ã¬this thing,Ã® the official cut short the conversation, saying: Ã¬I canÃt say now. Anyway, it will be very soon, no later than tomorrow. ThatÃs it.Ã®
Later, a local television bulletin here said that three people had been killed in Dongzhou, and eight injured, describing them as Ã¬criminalsÃ® and giving no other details. This was the first known mention of the violence in ChinaÃs state-controlled media, and BeijingÃs silence on the events underscored the vulnerability of a system that still practices heavy censorship in an age when sources of information beyond the governmentÃs control are readily available.
In recent months, the Chinese government has been increasingly preoccupied with stemming thousands of demonstrations against corrupt local governments and pollution and over land-use issues. Most have taken place in rural areas and villages, far from the public eye. Dongzhou, however, is close to Hong Kong, whose television signals reach here easily, and news of the killings has spread rapidly, despite the officially imposed silence in Chinese media. In the last 24 hours, Chinese language Web sites have carried abundant reports on the killings, often picked up from foreign news outlets, and commented upon them endlessly and often angrily.
DongzhouÃs villagers, with little hesitation and much outrage, recounted more details of the events in numerous telephone calls on Saturday. Still, most asked not to be identified. Many said the authoritiesÃ brutality against the demonstrators warranted comparison to the Japanese occupiers of the last century, and to Chinese Nationalist Army of Chiang Kai-shek.
Their accounts suggested a range of possible casualties. They identified four dead villagers, three of whom they said were taken to a local clinic, and said the fourth body was taken to a hospital in Shanwei. But they also spoke with conviction about other casualties, though often with sketchier details. Some insisted they had seen other bodies, and others spoke of large numbers of people unaccounted for.
Ã¬I was not at the scene that night, but after I heard some people were shot dead, I went to the clinic and saw three dead bodies there,Ã® said a man who gave his name only as Chang. Ã¬The next day, I heard there were several bodies lying by the road, where tragedy took place. I went there and saw seven or eight bodies lying there in a row, surrounded by many policemen, who were denying the familiesÃ attempts to claiming for the bodies.Ã®
Numerous accounts said that the authorities had thrown corpses into the sea and burned bodies after the killings. Villagers said they had counted 13 bodies floating on the sea.
Villagers also said that several times over the last few days, female residents had approached the police, who are still present in Dongzhou in large numbers, to beg that the bodies of relatives be released.
Others said that people had quickly buried the bodies of their relatives so they could not be destroyed by the police to cover up evidence of the killings.
Ã¬I heard that they police had sent dead bodies to Haifeng to be cremated there,Ã® said a man who gave his name as Li, and said he had been at the scene of the shootings. Ã¬Some corpses were just burned in the crossroads of the village, but not allowing people to get close to see.Ã®
In another reported episode, six unarmed men from the village fled the violence, climbing a nearby hilltop, where they were pursued by the police and shot, leaving only one survivor, whose account was repeated by villagers on Saturday. Some of the dead, the account said, were wounded from afar and then killed by the police at close range.
Ã¬That person saw with his own eyes that five people were killed,Ã® said a man who said he had heard the account firsthand from the survivor, who was wounded in the leg. This was one of several accounts in which villagers said security forces had shot and wounded people.
The confrontation on Tuesday was the culmination of months of tension over the construction of a coal-fired power plant. Villagers said they had not been adequately compensated for the use of their land Ã³ less than $3 per family, one said Ã³ and feared pollution from the plant would destroy their livelihood as fishermen. The plans called for the villageÃs bay to be reclaimed with landfill. Ã¬ShanweiÃs deputy party secretary said that he wanted to trample Dongzhou into a flat land,Ã® said a village resident who gave her name as Jiang, and spoke with anger at the heavy-handed manner of the authorities before the outbreak of violence. Ã¬He said weÃre just like a small hole in the ground.Ã®
Municipal officials here have been circulating the area, blaming the villagers for initiating the violence. They said that the villagers used fireworks, blasting caps and other small explosives, and that they had rejected a generous settlement for the use of the land.
Ã¬IÃm a good friend of Dongzhou people,Ã® one party official said by megaphone as he toured the village on Saturday. Ã¬Nobody wants to see anything like what happened here on the night of Dec. 6, but the people of this village are too barbaric. We were forced to open fire.Ã®
A 16-year-old boy who said he was in the crowd when the police began to fire said: Ã¬We didnÃt use explosives, because we were too far away. Someone may have tried, but thereÃs no way we could have reached them. These were homemade weapons, and when they started shooting, we didnÃt have a chance.ÃÃ
Copyright The New York Times