China Environmental News Digest

Daily updated Environmental news related to China

Friday, January 26, 2007

10 arrested in China pollution protest

By CHRISTOPHER BODEEN, Associated Press Writer

SHANGHAI, China - Police in southern China arrested 10 farmers embroiled in a dispute with a paper mill over pollution they say is killing their crops and fouling their water sources, villagers and media reports said Friday.

The men were taken away in a pre-dawn raid on Jan. 12, accused of "obstructing public duties," said Li Yongjin, a resident of the town of Botang in the impoverished region of Guangxi.

"They've given us no information about when they'll be able to get out," he said by telephone.

The arrests came a day after local officials told the villagers to prepare for a mediation session with managers from the Zhongtaifu mill, Li said.

The dispute reflects a common complaint in China: Industries move into areas where land is cheap, then release untreated, heavily polluted wastewater and fumes into the countryside.

With local governments unwilling to step in and often acting in collusion with factory owners who bring welcome tax revenues, farmers frequently seek outside help or mount their own, often violent protests aimed at shutting down the offenders.

Botang residents had used only legal channels to reach a settlement, however, repeatedly petitioning officials at the county and regional governments in the six years since the mill opened, according to villagers and the Boxun.com news Web site, which frequently reports on sensitive issues from outside China.

Chen Jian, an official with the environmental protection bureau in the regional capital of Nanning, said the plant had been ordered closed, but continued to operate.

"There is a serious pollution problem with the Zhongtaifu paper factory," Chen said. "If that is the case, the government is obligated to take measures to close down that factory."

Chen said the bureau was petitioning the government of Wuzhou, whose administrative region includes Botang, to enforce the closure order.

Phone calls to Botang government offices and the local police station rang unanswered. The Zhongtaifu paper mill had no listed number and general manager Zhou Jianping did not answer calls to his cell phone.

"We're surrounded by dirty, stinking air," Li said.

"The rice here is black. The fruit is either black or white. Rice and fruit are our main industries _ it's horrible," he said.

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