Tue, Mar 13, 2001 - Page 1 News List

Aborigines clash with cement firm over land

LAND MOVEMENT A peaceful protest against Asia Cement turned ugly yesterday, with violent clashes and one company spokesman promising to kill demonstrators

By Chuang Chi-ting  /  STAFF REPORTER IN HUALIEN , WITH AGENCIES

Taroko protesters set up signs claiming their land rights on the grounds of Asia Cement Corp's Hualien plant yesterday.

PHOTO: CHEN CHENG-CHANG, TAIPEI TIMES

A peaceful protest turned ugly yesterday after a group of Taroko farmers demonstrated against Asia Cement Co's plant in Hualien to demand the return of the factory's land to them.

Roughly 100 of Asia Cement's employees were on hand to greet the 40 protesters.

The demonstration started peacefully, with the Taroko farmers planting tree seedlings near the plant's perimeter and later performing rites.

But after a tense three-hour standoff with some pushing and shoving, the demonstrators broke through barbed-wire fences and forced their way into the rear of the plant's compound.

One Asia Cement official even vowed to kill the Taroko farmers.

"There will definitely be bloodshed next time. We'll kill you one by one," promised Chou Wei-kuen (周維崑), a company spokesman, after the group stormed the gates.

Asia Cement employees tried to bar the protesters from entering, which resulted in a dozen injuries to both demonstrators and Asia Cement workers.

Inside the plant's compound, the Taroko farmers planted trees and seeds and left signs claiming their rights to the land on which Asia Cement operates. They were unable to reach the mining area of the factory, but vowed to try again soon with more people at their side.

The violent clashes ended when police forces restored order.

"Why can't I farm here on the lands of our ancestors?" said Libihe Luback, a short, elderly Taroko woman before the demonstration turned into a scuffle.

Last year, a local court ruled that the Taroko people had the right to farm the land where Asian Cement's factory sits, but the company's operations continue to this day.

"I'm sad ... we cannot get back our lands, and the lands now are not good for farming with all the rocks laid there," said Labai Wubutz, a 70-year-old Taroko woman.

Although Asia Cement has refused to comply with the court's ruling, no government agency has stepped in to enforce the order.

The aboriginal landowners jointly notified Asia Cement of their decision to reclaim the land in a March 6 letter in the hope that the company would prepare itself to hand over the property by the March 12 deadline.

Legislators Pa Yen Ta Lu and Walis-Pelin said they have thrown their full support behind the aboriginal "land reclamation" drive and will help landowners to claim compensation from Asia Cement for the company's occupation of the land over the past 27 years.

After the KMT arrived on Taiwan in 1947, they took over the lands indigenous people had farmed for centuries, at the time offering them back some parts of the land.

Later, regulations were established that stipulated Aborigines could regain control of lands they had previously farmed for at least 10 years.

During that time, indigenous farmers' lands were owned by the government and administered by local village administrations (鄉公所).

But in the case of the Taroko farmers, the land was rented by the Hsiuling (秀林) village administration to Asia Cement.

The cement factory claims the farmers gave up their rights to the property, and says documents have been filed to support the company's claim.

However, available copies of these documents and interviews with Taroko farmers suggest that none of them had ever agreed to give up control of the land.

Land use rights were in the hands of the Taroko and Asia Cement until the Hsiuling administration terminated the company's contract in 1995.

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