Digger plows into grasslands protesters in China, injuring ethnic Mongolian herder


Residents say officials sold their grazing lands out from under them

Digger plows into grasslands protesters in China, injuring ethnic Mongolian herder

A mechanical digger moves toward protesters during a clash in China’s northern region of Inner Mongolia.

An ethnic Mongolian herder has been sent to hospital after being hit by heavy machinery amid clashes over the sale of collectively owned grazing land in China’s northern region of Inner Mongolia.

A video clip shared to Twitter showed a mechanical digger plowing into a group of people on grassland near Ar-Hundelen (in Chinese, Arikunduleng) township in Inner Mongolia’s Zaruud banner, a county-like administrative division, as onlookers shout.

The incident comes amid ongoing migration of majority Han Chinese to the region, as well as repeated land grabs by government-backed corporations, whose shift towards large-scale industrial farming in the region has turned huge swathes of the ecologically sensitive grassland to desert.

The digger was hired by the company that had recently bought the land from the township government in the face of widespread opposition from herding communities over the loss of their grazing lands, rights activists told Radio Free Asia.

Some of the herders were also beaten up as they tried to block access to the land, they said.

“On June 12, ethnic Mongolian herders were severely beaten and suppressed in Ar-Hundelen … as they were protecting their pastures,” Japan-based Mongolian rights activist Khuubis said. “This happened because township officials … unilaterally sold the land to Han Chinese buyers without consulting the herders or getting their consent.”

“When the Han Chinese who claimed to have bought the land tried to force their way onto the land, the herders resisted, and [the buyer] ran into them with heavy machinery, seriously injuring one person,” Khuubis said.

‘Chinese invaders’

In the video clip, the digger is also shown crushing some of the herders’ motorcycles and scooters, as onlookers rush to surround the injured man and call an ambulance to take him to hospital.

Herders told Radio Free Asia that a livestock breeding farm under collective ownership had sold off one area of grazing land to a Han Chinese businessman from outside the region for two million yuan, in the face of strong local opposition.

The New York-based Southern Mongolian Human Rights and Information Center quoted a statement from the herders as saying: “The Chinese buyer is now bringing truckloads of cows and other animals to the land, attempting to graze them in disregard of our protest.”

It quoted one herder as saying in a WeChat group that local officials “are ganging up with violent Chinese invaders … The lives of Mongolians are worthless here.”

Repeated calls to two local herders rang unanswered on Tuesday and Wednesday.

An official who answered the phone at the Ar-Hundelen government offices didn’t deny the incident had taken place.

“I don’t know — you can ask the propaganda officer,” the official said when asked how the injured herder was doing, then hung up.

Ecological damage

The Southern Mongolian Human Rights and Information Center quoted the local police department as saying that the violence was “a dispute that escalated to a conflict between a herder and the bulldozer driver, Mr. Lu, and the accountant Ms. Lu, resulting in an injury to the herder Mr. Wu.”

Overseas-based ethnic Mongolian activist Xi Haiming said heavy machinery and vehicles driving on the grassland can do serious ecological damage to the grasslands.

“This causes huge harm to the Mongolian herders,” Xi said. “This incident being reported today is the latest in a string of similar incidents that have been going on for a long time.”

“In this case, the Chinese officials were claiming that grazing the land put too much of a strain on the grassland, and was accelerating its degradation, even desertification,” Xi said, adding that local people have been herding cattle on the land sustainably for thousands of years.

He said the spread of large-scale pig farms in the region — owned by Han Chinese investors — had actually caused far more ecological damage, as the effluent from the farms poisons the grasslands.

In 2016, hundreds of residents of Ar-Hundelen protested over pollution from alumina plants near their traditional grazing lands they said had left local people with higher cancer rates, herders with piles of dead livestock and poisoned the soil and water.

Police later detained Ar-Hundelen herder Nasanulzei, who goes by one name, after he spoke out about the pollution and shot video of poisoned sheep.

Ethnic Mongolians, who make up almost 20 percent of Inner Mongolia’s population of 23 million, increasingly complain of widespread environmental destruction and unfair development policies in the region.

Clashes between the authorities or Chinese state-backed mining or forestry companies and herding communities are common in the region, which borders the independent country of Mongolia.

But those who speak out about the loss of their grazing lands are frequently targeted for harassment, beatings, and detention by the authorities.

Translated by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Malcolm Foster.

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