Sat, Feb 21, 2009 - Page 2 News List

Aborigines’ homes demolished

HOMELESS Police last night removed angry Aboriginal demonstrators from the Executive Yuan in Taipei after they protested the destruction of their community

By Loa Iok-sin  /  STAFF REPORTER

Angry residents of the Saowac Aboriginal Community yesterday protested at the Executive Yuan in Taipei for a second day after their homes were demolished by the Taoyuan County Government yesterday morning.

Police removed the demonstrators at 8pm last night.

The protesters said they would spend the night at the Kanjin (崁津) community in Taoyuan County and pledged to return to protest again on Thursday.

They demanded that Council for Indigenous Peoples (CIP) Minister Chang Jen-hsiang (章仁香) step down and called on Premier Liu Chao-shiuan (劉兆玄) to give them back their homes.

The protesters also accused Taoyuan County Commissioner Eric Chu (朱立倫) of being “an oppressor of Aborigines.”

The Saowac Aboriginal Community is located on the banks of the Dahan River (大漢溪) in Dasi Township (大溪), Taoyuan County. All of its residents are Amis from Hualien and Taitung Counties who migrated there about 30 years ago to work as construction workers. As they could not afford housing in the city, they built their own homes on undeveloped land along the river.

However, the county government issued a demolition notice in December. The Water Conservation Act (水利法) outlaws the ­building of houses in the area, since it is classified as a “flood zone.”

When Saowac residents demonstrated outside the Executive Yuan on Thursday, asking the central government to intervene, CIP Vice Minister Wang Chin-fa (王進發), an Atayal Aborigine, promised to negotiate with the Taoyuan County Government for a better solution in a week.

Despite the promise, a county demolition team escorted by about 100 police officers moved into Saowac yesterday morning and flattened the village.

“We thought that the CIP would speak for us and help us after what Wang promised us, but it was just an empty promise,” Aboriginal activist Panai Luni told reporters. “About 20 of us lay on the ground, but the police moved us by force and quickly destroyed Saowac.”

“It’s such a cold day today, but the government made these old people homeless,” Panai added. “What kind of government is this?”

The homeless Saowac residents brought blankets, sleeping bags, pots, a stove, vegetables and tents with them to the demonstration.

“This is all that’s left of our homes,” Saowac Church preacher Chang Chin-tsai (張進財) said, holding up a broken door.

“We ask that the Executive Yuan give us a place to stay, or we will stay right here,” Chang said.

Escorted by the police, Wang appeared at the protest site at around 5pm and tried to explain that he had meant what he said on Thursday and had been negotiating with the Taoyuan County Government yesterday morning, but his speech was interrupted several times.

Wang repeatedly said that he was also an Aborigine, but demonstrators shouted at him: “You’re a traitor! A pet of the Han people! How can you call yourself an Aborigine?”

The Taoyuan County Government yesterday defended the demolition.

“We posted the notice in December. We didn’t act right away because we wanted them to spend their Lunar New Year holidays in peace,” county water department official Yeh Meng-fen (葉孟芬) said.

“They were living there illegally, so we had to do something,” Yeh said.

“We are trying to help them — we’ll pay them compensation of between NT$5,000 and NT$30,000, and will provide them with job training as well,” the official said.

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