MAC: Mines and Communities

Police open fire at Tibetans protesting cement factory pollution

Published by MAC on 2010-05-29
Source: International Campaign for Tibet (2010-05-17)

Police open fire at Tibetans protesting cement factory pollution

International Campaign for Tibet

17 May 2010

Police opened fire on Tibetans at a cement factory in the Tibetan area of Amdo (Labrang in Gansu) on Saturday (May 15) after local villagers, worried about pollution from the factory, started to rebuild a road that had been closed by the expansion of the factory. Fifteen people were taken to hospital with gunshot wounds or injuries from beatings by police, although no one was killed, according to an exile Tibetan source in contact with Tibetans in the area. Pictures sent from Tibet depict armed police in riot gear massing outside the factory, which is in Madang Township, Labrang (Chinese: Xiahe) County in Gansu Province, the Tibetan area of Amdo.

The villagers had attempted to resolve the issue of pollution by the factory peacefully by submitting a petition to the authorities, a copy of which has been obtained and is translated from Chinese into English below. The petition, which also refers to the religious significance of the area where the factory is built, states:

"For over a thousand of us villagers, [the cement factory] has brought with it enormous harm: the cement factory gave no consideration or [illegible] to controlling pollution [illegible] in step with production. Having expanded production, the amount of dust being discharged was an unknown number of times greater than before reconstruction. At times when the more serious pollutants are being emitted, even opening one's eyes can be very difficult. [...] Today, when all the world is advocating harmonious development and our country is fully implementing a scientific viewpoint of development, the defendants at the same time as expanding production ignored state environment protection laws by seriously contravening effluent and dust and pollutant outputs, creating serious harm to our normal lives. Therefore, having attained no outcome in discussions with the cement factory leaders the only option was to petition relevant departments and earnestly request a high degree of attention, leading to an amicable resolution that will avoid the occurrence of drastic actions."

The language used by the drafters of the petition indicates an awareness not only of national law and policy on environmental protection, but also an understanding of current Communist Party sogans including "harmonious development" and a "scientific viewpoint." It is not yet known how many people signed the petition, nor which government and Party offices it was sent to. Despite being a perfectly legitimate form of lodging a protest with the Chinese authorities, the petition's strength of language and the determination of its tone may have been a factor in the decision to deploy armed force against local people protesting at the factory.

The incident follows protests by Tibetan villagers in Markham in the Tibetan area of Kham against mining operations earlier this month, according to the Tibetan language service of Radio Free Asia. Thirteen Tibetans were detained and five injured on May 4, the day a mining company was given the go ahead, despite earlier protests, to resume mining at three major sites in Markham (Chinese: Mangkang) county in Chamdo (Chinese: Qamdo) Prefecture, Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR). (Report at: http://www.tibetanreview.net/news.php?&id=6356)

Armed police confronted Tibetans this weekend outside the cement factory in Madang after Tibetans had gathered in order to start rebuilding the road in the area. According to local sources in contact with exile Tibetans, Tibetans in Madang resent the cement factory because of its pollution to the local area and adverse impact on the grasslands and livestock. The factory has been developed by the authorities in recent years and now blocks the main road to Yarshul (Chinese: Yaxiu) village. Tibetans started to rebuild this road, and in doing so, blocked vehicles from the cement factory.

The same Tibetan source reported: "Local Tibetans carried on with their road construction work even though the staff from cement factory, cadres from Madang Township as well as County police officers arrived and warned them to stop. Finally the deputy governor of the county arrived and told them that if they did not pull back from blocking the road to the cement factory's vehicles, the authorities would take action. He gave them a 15-minute warning, and the villagers did start to move back from the road. But even so armed police moved forward and started to shoot." No one was killed, but according to the same source at least two Tibetans were taken to hospital with gunshot wounds, one apparently injured in the leg. Others were beaten up by police, and ICT has an image of a Tibetan with blood over his face apparently following a beating.

The cement factory is known to locals as the 'Amdo Cement Factory' and there are around 600 employees, according to the same Tibetan source, who says: "The factory causes many problems for local Tibetans because it pollutes the area, producing chemical residues which have badly affected grasslands and forests, as well as livestock. There have been incidents before between local people and factory works, with a serious clash in 2008."

A copy of the petition, obtained by an exiled Tibetan, has been translated from Chinese into English by ICT below. In addition to the expressed concerns about pollution, local Tibetan signatories say that the factory was built on a site of religious significance in the area.

Petition of Appeal

Appellants: All villagers from the seven natural villages[i]of Yaxiu Village etc in Madang Township, Xiahe County;

Defendants: Amdo Cement Company LLC, Xiahe County;

Court-appointed representative: Wang Zhimeng, general manager of said company.

It is requested:

1) To compel the defendant in accordance with the law to place strict controls on dust and pollution during the process of production, and to return the surrounding people's natural environment to its pristine condition;

2) To compel the defendant in accordance with the law to withdraw from the forcibly occupied site of religious activity - the Mani Stack.[ii]

3) To compel the defendant to withdraw [illegible] from the illegally occupied historical road and return it to its original condition;

4) To compel the defendant to immediately cease and desist all encroachments, and to repair the "White Pagoda" damaged during the course of their production. [I.e., the Mani Stack.]

The appellants' facts and reasoning are as follows:

All people of the seven natural villages have lived for generations upon generations within Yaxiu Village in Madang Township, relying upon tilling fields and grazing livestock for maintaining our livelihood. Ever since the Madang Cement Factory began operations within our village, the previous tranquility of life on the farm has been completely broken by modernization, and in particular in the years since the cement factory became a limited company and the scale of production steadily increased. For over a thousand of us villagers, this has brought with it enormous harm: the cement factory gave no consideration or [illegible] to controlling pollution [illegible] in step with production. Having expanded production, the amount of dust being discharged was an unknown number of times greater than before reconstruction. At times when the more serious pollutants are being emitted, even opening one's eyes can be very difficult. Due to the wanton discharge of large amounts of dust and pollutants, harvests at the farms of we villagers living in the areas surrounding the cement factory dropped sharply (the most serious drop was over 60%); and because grazing on the slopes was seriously polluted, not only was the rate of growth severely slowed, more importantly, cattle and sheep would no longer graze on the polluted grass slopes. The pastures have become "ash grass," forcing us to go ever farther to search for grazing and even to buy in grass fodder because the natural pastures have lost their function of supporting livestock, severely impacting upon our normal lives.

Aside from the severe pollution created in the process of production, during the cement factory's expansion in 2009 they forcibly occupied a site where we carry out religious activities - Mani Stack. The large-tonnage trucks going to and from the cement factory have not only damaged the road - the White Pagoda [Mani Stack] is built next to a farming road - the White Pagoda itself now leans and is cracked. We villagers have twice spent money to carry out repairs, but in the end we couldn't keep up with the amount of damage being caused by the cement factory; and now, because of the extent of the damage, no one dares to go into the White Pagoda for religious activities.

During production, dozens of large-tonnage trucks arrive with raw materials and leave with cement goods, operating 24-hours a day at times and seriously damaging farming roads. Already, it's impossible to pass normally; added to which, during the cement factory's period of expansion it forcibly occupied the original farming road, which has now crowded the farming road down next to the [illegible] Yaxiu River, giving rise to the possibility of [illegible] into the river at during dark or when it rains.

[Illegible] Today, when all the world is advocating harmonious development and our country is fully implementing a scientific viewpoint of development, the defendants at the same time as expanding production ignored state environment protection laws by seriously contravening effluent and dust and pollutant outputs, creating serious harm to our normal lives. Therefore, having attained no outcome in discussions with the cement factory leaders the only option was to petition relevant departments and earnestly request a high degree of attention, leading to an amicable resolution that will avoid the occurrence of drastic actions. At the same time, in order to protect the natural environment where we live, we shall report the illegal actions of the cement factory to the relevant environmental departments, and to central news and media departments and ministries and await an ultimate resolution.

With regards,

The appellant: [omitted] and all other villagers from the seven natural villages of Yaxiu Village etc in Madang Township, Xiahe County.

May 13, 2010.

[i] A ‘natural village' refers to regular village in a rural area. An alternative is an ‘administrative village.'

[ii] A Mani Stack (Chinese: Mani tui) in this context refers to a carefully constructed pile of stones bearing carved mantras and passages from Buddhist scriptures. In this case, it would appear that the stack was fairly high as it is referred to later in the petition as the "White Pagoda." Mani Stacks are seldom seen in this particular part of Amdo, and are far more common in Kham.

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