MAC: Mines and Communities

Inner Mongolia's Deadly Coal Drive

Published by MAC on 2011-06-13
Source: PlanetArk, Bloomberg, The Guardian

On May 11 2011, a truck driver ran over and dragged to death an Indigenous Mongolian as he protested, along with 20 other villagers, against coal mine pollution.

The murder provoked a wave of protests throughout the region, culminating two weeks later in a march by 1,000 students to the government headquarters.

Last week, a Chinese court sentenced the truck driver to death, and his co-driver to life imprisonment.

The savagery of the penalty was clearly intended to reduce the threats of "ethnic tension" between Mongolians and those who have trespassed on their territory for many years.

Miners, in particular, have been the focus of protests - where they have occurred at all. 

China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region has now promised to introduce measures to "improve" mining industry standards.

But any move to respect the rights of Mongolia's original peoples would seem as remote as the region itself.


China Court Gives Death Sentence In Inner Mongolia Case

By Ben Blanchard


9 June 2011

A court in China's vast northern region of Inner Mongolia handed out a death sentence and life in jail for two men charged with the homicide of an ethnic Mongolian herder, state media said on Wednesday, a killing that set off days of rare protests.

Reuters Paramilitary policemen (bottom) and policemen block the street during a protest in Xilinhot, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region
Paramilitary policemen (bottom) and policemen block the street
during a protest in Xilinhot, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region,
23 May 2011. Source: Reuters

The death of Mergen, who had been protesting against pollution caused by a nearby coal mine, sparked wider demonstrations by ethnic minority Mongolians demanding better protection of their rights and traditions.

Beijing, ever worried by threats to stability, is now trying to address some of the protesters' broader concerns about the damage done by coal mining to traditional grazing lands.

State news agency Xinhua said coal truck driver Li Lindong will be executed "for using his vehicle to kill" Mergen. His co-driver, also a Han Chinese, was sentenced to life imprisonment at the court in Xilinhot.

The tough sentences, announced immediately after the six-hour trial ended, underscores the government's determination to show it takes seriously the concerns of the ethnic Mongolians, and that it wants to avoid any more unrest.

The report said the trial was attended by about 160 people, including relatives of Mergen, who like many of China's ethnic Mongolians goes by only one name. Repeated telephone calls to Mergen's family members were unsuccessful.

"The Mongol herder Mergen, together with 20 others, attempted to block the path of Li Lindong's coal truck, in protest against the noise and dust created by the coal trucks day and night near his village," Xinhua said.

"According to police, the truck dragged Mergen for 145 meters and subsequently killed him," the English-language report said.

Telephone calls to the court seeking comment went unanswered.

Xinhua said local residents were "still fuming" over Mergen's death, but his wife Uzhina and brother Bayar had been satisfied with the government's response to the case.

"We saw justice from the result, and I believe that herders from the West Ujimqin Banner will be happy with the result as well," Xinhua quoted Bayar as saying, referring to the epicenter of the protests.

But local official Ding Ruilian expressed sympathy for Li, the driver, saying she felt "heart-struck for the lack of legal awareness of youngsters like (him)."

Ethnic Mongolians, who make up under 20 percent of the roughly 24 million population of Inner Mongolia, have complained that their traditional grazing lands have been ruined by mining and desertification, and that the government has tried to force them to settle in permanent houses.

The authorities have since launched a month-long overhaul of the lucrative coal mining industry, vowing to clean up or close polluters.

Inner Mongolia, which covers more than a tenth of China's land mass, is supposed to enjoy a high degree of self-rule, but Mongolians say the Han Chinese majority hold the power and have been the main beneficiaries of economic development.

China's Mongolians rarely take to the streets, unlike Tibetans or Xinjiang's Uighurs, making the recent protests highly unusual.

(Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)

Protests erupt after China's Inner Mongolian herder run over by coal truck as he tries to stop mining convoy driving across prairie land

The Guardian (UK)

27 May 2011

Outside the closed gates of the Xilingol Mongolian high school, Chinese police watch warily as hundreds of students perform calisthenics in a yard from where the previous day they left to march through the streets. A short drive away, another police unit monitors a middle school that has become a source of concern. On the grasslands, patrol cars block access to a troubled community of herders and miners.

Security forces in Inner Mongolia, an autonomous region of China, are on high alert after the biggest wave of demonstrations in 20 years, sparked by a killing that symbolises the traumatic transition of Mongolia's nomadic grasslands into a mining powerhouse.

On 11 May, a Han Chinese coal-truck driver ran over a 35-year-old Mongolian herder, known as Mergen, as he tried to stop a convoy driving across fenced prairies in Xiwu.

Allegations the killing was deliberate inflamed passions in the indigenous Mongolian community, which has been squeezed out of much of the land over 50 years.

Protests erupted in at least three places. Video clips ( posted online by overseas supporters show herders being arrested after a face-off with military police in Ujumchin last week. According to overseas groups, crowds also took to the streets in Huveet Shar on Thursday and Shuluun Huh on Friday with banners declaring: "Defend the rights of Mongols" and "Defend the homeland".

The biggest protest was in Xilinhot, where 1,000 students in yellow and blue uniforms marched through the broad streets to the government headquarters on Wednesday.

"This was the largest protest since 1991," said Enghebatu Togochog, director of the US-based Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Centre, which calls for more autonomy for the region and respect for traditional lifestyles. "There are increasing conflicts between herders and miners as the authorities open up more mines in the grasslands to meet their goal of turning Inner Mongolia into the nation's energy base."

In recent years, Inner Mongolia has become China's leading producer of coal and rare earth elements.

Details of the killing that sparked the protests are sketchy, second-hand and may have been exaggerated by internet rumours and a lack of trust in censored official news.

Locals said 35-year-old Mergen was leading about 40 herders who tried to block a convoy of coal trucks from the Tongcheng No 2 colliery. The drivers had reportedly run down fences and intruded on nomads' land to avoid a bumpy road. After a protracted stand-off, the drivers are said to have crashed through the herders, killing Mergen.

One widely cited but unverifiable claim is that the driver boasted he was sufficiently insured to cover the death of a "smelly Mongolian herder".

The author of this report - a Mongolian blogger named Zorigt - wrote: "In order to take a shortcut, these coal-hauling trucks have randomly run over local herders' grazing lands, not only killing numerous heads of livestock but also further damaging the already weakened fragile grassland."

Students place more faith in such blogs than the government version of events. "We are very angry. They killed him on purpose and dragged him along the ground for more than 100 metres. This has made us realise that Mongolian lives are worthless," said a 16-year-old female student from the Xilingol high school. "If this issue is not resolved, there will be more protests."

Many students are from herding families who have been moved into cities as the wide-open pastures are fenced off. The government says such measures are necessary to promote development, prevent overgrazing and protect the fragile grasslands, much of which have turned to desert in recent years. Locals say herders' rights have been violated and the fencing and mining have created bigger environmental problems, including pollution, noise, traffic and dust storms that blow across much of north-east Asia.

The transformation is evident on the flight to Xilinhot. From the air, the grasslands are blotched with sandy areas near farms and the dark smudges of open-cast pits. From the road, the clouds of dust from mines and trucks is visible miles away.

Mergen's death has turned him into a martyr for those who are unhappy with the loss and degradation of land. "He is a hero," said another female student in a yellow uniform. "I don't like to see barriers between Han and Mongols, but sometimes it is necessary to fight for your land."

Anger at the killing is focused on the truckers and the mining firms. It does not appear to have set the two main ethnic groups against one another. Many Han residents said they supported the Mongolian students, whose demonstration was peaceful. Shopkeepers said they provided free food and drink to the marchers. Taxi drivers expressed sympathy for their cause, and a restaurant owner spoke of the need for justice. But others were worried that the situation might deteriorate.

Mongolian activists have called for rolling protests through the region, culminating in a rally in Genghis Khan Square in Hulunbuir on Monday.

The authorities have tried to placate protesters by arresting four men for the killing and damage to grasslands, with a promise of a full investigation and compensation for the bereaved.

Mergen's brother said the family have been given money, but declined to say how much. "I don't want to answer any more questions about this," he said by phone.

Local radio runs frequent bulletins about the police investigation, but there are few details and little transparency. An official at the Xilinhot propaganda department claimed to be unaware of any protests. The phone rang unanswered at other government offices.

Outsiders are unwelcome. The Guardian was blocked on the road into West Ujimchin where Mergen was killed. "Special circumstances. You're not allowed in. It's not safe," said an officer. At 4.30 the next morning, two plainclothes police entered the Guardian's hotel room, woke this correspondent and tried to conduct an interrogation.

Chinese authorities are nervous about signs of unrest in areas with large ethnic minorities, such as Tibet and Xinjiang, which also experience tensions between herders and mining settlers. Inner Mongolia is usually considered less of a security threat because its overseas supporters are less vocal in calling for independence, it does not have a charismatic leader such as the Dalai Lama and its indigenous community has already been numerically overwhelmed by an influx of Han migrants who now comprise 79% of the population.

But there is a heavy security presence, and police are ruthless in quashing dissent. Last December, the region's most famous writer and activist, Hada, was due for release from prison after 15 years. He has not been seen since and is presumed to be under house arrest.

The government's unease - and heavy-handed crackdown on protests and journalists - has also been sharpened by online calls this year for a "jasmine revolution" in China. Unrelated protests over land seizures, pollution and unemployment remain a concern, most recently focused on explosions of homemade bombs at three government offices in Fuzhou.

Inner Mongolia Unrest Prompts China to Change Mining Rules


30 May 2011

China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region said it will take measures to improve the mining industry, part of new rules following protests by ethnic Mongolians sparked when a coal truck ran over a herdsman.

The official Xinhua News Agency said the regional government will probe the industry's impact on the environment and the livelihoods of local residents, and improve the training and management of mining personnel. At the same time, China is deploying police across the province to quell protests and information on the unrest is unavailable on news websites.

Protests erupted last week in cities including Xilinhot, 493 miles (793 kilometers) north of Beijing after the herdsman's death earlier this month. The U.S.-based Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center said the herdsman, named Mergen, was trying to stop coal-mining trucks from crossing pastureland. The unrest by minorities in Inner Mongolia follows deadly riots in western China's Xinjiang region in 2009 and in Tibet in 2008.

Recent incidents "have triggered a great deal of public anger," Hu Chunhua, the Communist Party Secretary of Inner Mongolia, told teachers and students in the region on May 27, according to a May 28 report in the official Inner Mongolian Daily. "We will firmly protect the dignity of law and the rights of the victims and their families."

Protests Erupt

Protests have taken place in several Inner Mongolian towns and cities since the death and martial law was declared in several cities, according to the Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center, citing local residents.

Large numbers of police patrolled the regional capital, Hohhot, especially around the main square where Internet messages over the weekend urged people to protest today, the Associated Press reported, citing people reached by phone. Police blanketed Chifeng city, scene of protests yesterday, residents reached by phone told AP.

China's politburo, chaired by President Hu Jintao, held a meeting today on reinforcing social management, the Xinhua News Agency reported today. China is at a development stage with prominent social conflicts, it said. Solving problems in social management requires urgent and long-term efforts, it said.

News on the events is restricted in China. Nasdaq-listed Sina Corp.'s microblog returns the following message when the Chinese characters for "Inner Mongolia" are entered in a search box: "According to relevant laws, regulations and policies, the search results have not been displayed." Liu Qi, a spokesman for the Shanghai-based company, said he hadn't heard of the unrest and "wasn't clear" about any restrictions.

Web Restrictions

A report on the local Xilingol government Web site that has been posting information on what the Inner Mongolian official media calls the "5.11 Incident" after the day of Mergen's death, is also unavailable in searches inside and outside of China.

Ren Yaping, 58, the deputy party secretary for Inner Mongolia and a member of the majority Han ethnic group, was shown on a May 28 midday broadcast on Inner Mongolia television visiting Mergen's family and expressing "grief at this unfortunate situation." The report said the perpetrators, who had been arrested, "would be severely punished according to law." He presented the family with what appeared to be a 10,000-yuan bundle of 100-yuan bills.

On the same broadcast, Guo Shuyun, the chairman of Liaoning Chuncheng Industry & Trade Group Co., the coal company whose truck was involved in the killing, was shown visiting Mergen's family, making a deep bow. At a televised press conference, he apologized with a 90-degree bow to the audience and said his company would respect herders' livelihoods and protect the environment. A person at the Fuxin, China-based company hung up the phone when asked about the incident.

More Subsidies

The Communist Party's official People's Daily said the government would increase subsidies in the region by more than half. Hu, 48, nicknamed "Little Hu," in reference to President Hu Jintao, is a rising star in the Communist Party and mentioned by analysts of Chinese politics as a future top national leader. Calls made to the Inner Mongolia government to ask about the measures went unanswered.

Ethnic Mongolians make up less than one-fifth of the population of Inner Mongolia, which has about 24 million people living in an area bigger than France, Spain and Portugal combined.

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