WASHINGTON — ; Police in the Xinjiang region of northwestern China have detained at least 16 people for protesting what they say is an unfair relocation package.
About 1,000 farmers, forestry workers, and herdsmen from the Kapchigay forestry farm protested June 11 outside the offices of a reservoir and water power station project on the Tikas branch of the Ili River, local sources told RFA's Uyghur service.
Local authorities launched the project — ; on the border between Tikas and Tokkuz Tara countries in Ili Prefecture — ; in 2000 in a bid to meet China's skyrocketing energy demand. Plans call for the relocation of some 18,000 local farmers, forest workers, and herdsmen to allow its completion.
"There are 16 people brought to our station — ; yesterday there were 10, and today we have 6," a municipal police officer said on condition of anonymity. "I don't know details. I heard it was about a land dispute."
Other witnesses said in interviews that up to 50 people were detained, many of them members of the Uyghur ethnic group that forms a tiny minority in China but a majority in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.
"Police came in and detained about 50 demonstrators, accusing them of opposing plans to relocate them to make way for the water power station," one witness said. "There is no information on where those 50 people were taken, and we are worried about the detainees' safety."
The witness said demonstrators were demanding the 38,000 yuan (U.S. $4,600) they had been promised as compensation for moving, after they received only 880 yuan (U.S. $106) each.
The June 11 demonstration is the first major protest reported in Ili Prefecture in seven years.
In February 1997, young Uyghurs marched through Ili to protest the arrest of a youth leader and demand an end to rights abuses. Armed police confronted them, and local people say many were killed and hundreds detained.