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County halts work on disputed land

By Xiang Mingchao in Huaibin, Henan and An Baijie in Beijing  (China Daily)

08:33, April 19, 2013

Excavators stand idle at the construction site for a property project in Huaibin, Henan province. Work was suspended after it was reported that the land had been forcibly seized from farmers. (Xiang Mingchao / China Daily)

A county in Henan province has halted a villa project after reactions to reports that it forcibly seized more than 330 hectares of land from farmers.

The Huaibin government said on Thursday that the development beside the Huai River had been suspended and a team had been dispatched to investigate.

No additional details were given, although the authority added that it welcomes media supervision. Bulldozers destroyed large swathes of arable land in the region on April 10 despite protests from farmers, China Youth Daily reported.

The government seized the farmland in autumn, with farmers paid about 36,529 yuan a mu, the equivalent of $88,710 a hectare, as compensation.

Residents refused to accept the deal, and China National Radio reported that 100 unidentified men attacked people as they attempted to stop the bulldozers on March 29.

Li Shiyou, of Renyan village, told China Daily he had two ribs fractured in the conflict, and his brother's nose was broken.

The county government said in an open letter released after the attack that it will fight those who "don't have a clear mind and try to stop construction".

The project, first advertised in January 2010, covers 322 hectares along the banks of the Huai River.

To afford the costs of the project, the poverty-stricken county sought investment from real estate companies, China Youth Daily reported.

In an article published on the county government's website in February 2012, the project is described as an urgent issue.

Zhang Shijun, 46, of Hanyingzi village, told China Daily the government had seized most of his family's farmland for the project, and he was worried about his future livelihood.

"There is only 1.3 mu (0.08 hectares) of farmland left for my family now, which is not enough to meet basic demands," he said. "The compensation will be gone in five or six years, so what will we rely on after that?"

Lu Zejian, the official in charge of construction, has vowed that the government will build free homes for farmers, which they could use to live in, start a business or collect rental income.

However, Zhang said he was not assured by the official's commitment.

"I don't know whether the official will keep the promise of building houses for me, but what I do know is that the farmland can never be restored after it has been seized by the government," he said.

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