Sat, Feb 23, 2008 - Page 2 News List

FEATURE: Aboriginal community resists call to relocate

AFFORDABILITY? Taipei County had built 150 apartments to relocate a community living along a riverbank, but some could not bear to leave the land or afford the rent

By Loa Iok-sin  /  STAFF REPORTER

With fear in her eyes, Lu Mei-hua (呂美華), a resident of Sanying Aboriginal Community (三鶯部落), sat in front of her home on Thursday, after the Taipei County Government's demolition team tore down several homes in the community on Monday.

"When they [the demolition team] were taking down my neighbors' houses, I was so afraid they would tear down my home as well -- like they did many times in the past," Lu said, as she watched her three daughters playing.

After posting a notice on Feb. 14 asking all residents to leave their homes within three days, the county government sent a team on Monday to tear down the first batch of houses, most of which were left vacant after the residents moved out.

"This is classified as a flood area, and the law prohibits anyone from living here," said Wu Chen-sheng (吳振聲), a county Indigenous Peoples Bureau (IPB) official. "We're just following orders on demolishing illegal constructions."

The community is located on the east bank of Dahan River (大漢溪) near Sanying Bridge (三鶯大橋) that connects Sansia (三峽) and Yingge (鶯歌) townships.

Most of the residents are Amis Aborigines who moved to Taipei to work as coalminers or construction workers decades ago, and their descendants.

Unable to afford housing in the city, the Amis have settled and built their homes along the riverbank in Sanying, using abandoned wooden boards, canvas, tin sheets and other materials.

"My father-in-law has been living here since he worked as a miner at the Haishan Coal mine [海山煤礦] before the explosion, and this is where I met my husband," said Chang Hsiu-yi (張秀儀), a resident who discovered her house had been flattened when she returned from work on Monday.

The Haishan Coalmine was the second-most productive mine in the country before it was closed in 1989. The explosion Chang mentioned occurred in 1984, killing 74 miners, mostly Amis.

The county government has built apartments to help residents living in flood areas relocate.

"We conducted a census in 2002 on five Aboriginal communities that were illegally staying in flood areas along the riverbanks," Wu said.

"We found that 133 households would need housing after their homes on the riverbank were demolished," Wu said.

new apartments

To solve the problem, the county government had built 150 apartments in Sansia, he said.

"In the 2002 census, we recorded 25 households in Sanying Community ... 15 of them have already moved into the new apartments," IPB chief secretary Yang Cheng-pin (楊正斌) told the Taipei Times by telephone.

However, nine more households moved into the community after the census, and thus were not registered. The problem now is finding shelter for "unregistered" households.

"We'll see what we can do and try to solve the problem before May," Wu said. "

"We'll have the 133 registered households move into the apartments first, and then we can consider having others move into the apartments if there are vacancies," he said.

After the first demolition on Monday, those who remained in the community were asked to sign an agreement volunteering to move out so that the houses could be torn down before the end of the month.

A number of households signed the agreement, but others did not.

Pan Chin-hua (潘金花), who did not sign the agreement, is one of the "unregistered" residents.

Without prior notice, the demolition team -- escorted by nearly 70 police officers, according to police sources -- moved into the community again.

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