Eight killed as Chinese villagers fight pitched battle with ‘construction workers’

Radically different accounts have emerged of how eight people were killed in a village in south-west China on Tuesday, with villagers claiming that they were attacked by a gang of armed men hired by the local government, and the local government claiming the villagers abducted construction workers and burned them alive.  

The incident occurred in the village of Fuyou in Yunnan province, where tension has been building for three years over the expropriation of two square kilometres of farmland for a logistics centre. 

Both sides agree that the villagers were unhappy with the amount of compensation they had been offered for the land, and had disrupted the construction of the centre to such an extent that work was halted in May.  

According to the villagers’ account, the fighting began on Tuesday afternoon when between one and two thousand men, some of whom were described as construction workers and others as auxiliary police, appeared in the village of Fuyou armed with knives, clubs, petrol bombs and shields.

In the subsequent fighting, a villager in his 50s and another in his 60s were killed, as were six of the attackers. A further eight people were hospitalised, one with serious injuries. 

The villagers maintained that they captured some of their assailants and were able to use them as hostages to end the fighting, and to find out who was behind the attack.  

They said the fighting was intended to quell villagers’ resistance to the logistics centre. They said the attackers who were detained said they had been hired for $50 each by the council, and were armed with police equipment including batons and CS gas. Photos taken of the aftermath of the battle show what appear to be police equipment. 

Another report from Boxun, a Chinese-language citizen journalism site sourced mostly by anonymous users, said the villagers burned five of the captured men alive and seized a large amount of police equipment from them, including tear gas and shields.  

A villager called HouWei Yun wrote that some of the attackers work for government agencies. Another villager going under the name "Little 3 with Horns Get Away" said the local government had transported the attackers in 16 large trucks to the village. 

Villagers interviewed by The Beijing News acknowledged that workers had been bound and beaten but denied that they had been intentionally set on fire. The residents claimed that the men had been burned when other workers, who had not been captured, threw Molotov cocktails. "I didn’t see anyone pour gasoline on them, and I don’t think anyone wanted to set them on fire," a villager named Zhou Lihui was quoted as saying. "All we had were hoes and sticks." 

After the fighting in Fuyou was over, villagers launched a counter-attack against the headquarters of Jinning county government, which oversees Fuyou. According to reports on Boxun, they smashed police vehicles and were only dispersed by the mobilisation of 1,000 police officers from the provincial capital of Kunming.  

The Kunming government said on its website that the villagers had been upset for many months over compensation for the land being used in the project, and had already forced building to stop in May. It said that the "armed men" were in fact workers returning to the site to resume construction. 

The government said: ""On that day, eight workers who were having breakfast in Fuyou village were illegally detained by villagers, their hands and legs tied up, they were beaten, had gasoline poured on them and were then taken to a road near the building site.  

"Later, hundreds of villagers raided the construction site and fought with workers. During the clash, villagers threw home-made explosives into the crowd and set the kidnapped workers alight, while the workers fought the villagers with their tools, causing serious injuries and loss of life." 

It added that "police will severely punish those who "organised, carried out and proactively participated in illegal criminal activities, no matter who they are". 

For their part, the police have pledged to investigate the incident "fairly and objectively". The authorities  have also started discussing compensation with the families of victims. 

Meanwhile, it was announced that Qin Guangrong, the Communist Party boss in Yunnan, was being relieved of his post without being appointed to another. Although there was no reason given for his dismissal, the construction of the logistics centre was in line with Beijing’s "bridgehead strategy" to promote economic growth in the relatively underdeveloped south-west of China. 

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