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Chinese land rights 'must not be violated': Wen
by Staff Writers
Beijing (AFP) March 5, 2012

Farmers' rights to their land "must not be violated", China's premier told parliament on Monday, a day after elections in a village that became a symbol of resistance against official land grabs.

Government seizures of land -- a major source of discontent in China -- sparked a rare revolt in December in the southern village of Wukan, where residents said Communist officials had been seizing their land for decades.

In a speech to mark the opening of China's National People's Congress, Premier Wen Jiabao said farmers' rights must be protected.

"Farmers' rights to the land they contract to work on, to the land on which their houses sit, and to proceeds from collective undertakings, are property rights conferred by law, and these rights must not be violated by anyone," he said.

Land grabs have become an explosive issue in China as officials seeking to cash in on a property boom increasingly force farmers off their land to make way for construction -- an issue repeatedly condemned by Wen.

In Wukan, in the wealthy province of Guangdong neighbouring Hong Kong, the simmering anger led to bold protests and the overthrow of leaders residents said had run the village like "local emperors", stealing their land for years.

The protest attracted worldwide attention and a rare climb-down by provincial officials, including a pledge that the land seizures would be investigated and elections held.

On Saturday, villagers took part in a contested election for the first time to choose a seven-member committee to represent them.

Wen vowed in his nearly two-hour speech that China would place farmland "under strict protection" and draft regulations concerning "compensation for the expropriation of rural collective land".

Land grabs cause more than 65 percent of rural China's "mass incidents" -- the one-party government's euphemism for large protests -- according to official think-tank the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

The issue is high on the agenda at this year's NPC, the last under the current leadership before handover of power later this year, as officials seek to keep a lid on social unrest.

More than 43 percent of farmers in a wide-ranging study have had their land confiscated and local governments have made huge profits in the process, state media said last month.

According to the study, conducted in 17 provinces and regions by Beijing's Renmin University and published in the 21st Century Business Herald, nearly a quarter of farmers did not receive any compensation for their land.

Almost two thirds of those surveyed who did receive compensation got a lump sum, which averaged 18,739 yuan ($3,000) per mu, a Chinese unit of land equivalent to 0.16 acres or 0.07 hectares, according to the study.

This compares to an average land sale price of 778,000 yuan per mu for local governments -- or more than 40 times the average compensation sum given to farmers. The others received their money in installments.

Officially, Chinese farmers are not owners of the land they cultivate, but since decollectivisation more than 30 years ago, they have the right to use plots through long-term leases.

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