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China Pledges Better Farmland Protection

China has pledged increased efforts this year to protect farmland from illegal expropriations -- a chief source of unrest in the countryside.


The country has no intention of privatizing land, Chen Xiwen, director of the central government's rural work office, told a news conference in Beijing yesterday.


Chen noted that China's land ownership principles are enshrined in its constitution.


China's rural land is collectively owned and allocated to farmers in plots on 30-year leases. Farmers are not allowed to use the land as collateral for loans or to sell it.


Some areas, such as south China's Guangdong Province, have started trial sales of rights to use rural land.


Chen said that rural plots traded on the market must have a construction authorization and must not be farmland.


Leasing land from farmers for construction purposes is illegal, according to a notice issued by the Chinese government in September to tighten land supply.


Chen affirmed that China will continue its land-use reforms to control illegal sales of farmland and protect farmers' interests.


The issue of rural land rights is a thorny problem for China. Without secure land rights, more and more Chinese farmers have been relocated to make way for roads, factories and residential areas as China's economy sizzles.


Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao warned last year that illegal seizures of land without compensation and resettlement are a key source of instability in rural areas.


"This kind of thing sparks mass incidents in the countryside," Wen said. "We must absolutely avoid committing a historic error over land problems."


Land expropriation is the most frequent subject of petitions from Chinese farmers, with complaints about village finances and environmental pollution coming in second and third, Chen said.


The officials urged governments at all levels to consider farmers' requests and try to resolve their problems.


He warned that if officials failed to address farmers' issues in a timely and efficient manner, a single petition could lead to "a mass incident" involving public protests or even a riot.


The number of "mass incidents" attributed to Chinese farmers declined last year, and figures for those who died in such incidents or were arrested were also down, Chen said, without revealing specifics.


The Ministry of Public Security said 87,000 "mass incidents" were reported in 2005, up 6.6 percent from 2004 and 50 percent from 2003.


Nearly 200,000 hectares of rural land are taken from farmers every year for industrial purposes, according to official figures. More than 65 percent of "mass incidents" in rural areas were attributed to land expropriation. And most of the petitions over land expropriation were triggered by compensation issues.





(Shanghai Daily January 31, 2007)

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