Sun, Nov 16, 2003 - Page 5 News List

Cheap rat poison makes for easy murders

KILLING SPREE Numerous ghastly poisonings have forced authorities to seize tonnes of `Dushuqiang' and threaten suppliers and perpetrators of murders with execution

AP , BEIJING

Each story is ghastlier than the last. A shop owner poisons the snacks at a rival's store, and 38 people die. A widow spikes the lunch at her husband's funeral, killing 10. A man seeks vengeance against his married lover by targeting her children.

Across China, aggrieved parties are increasingly turning to an outlawed but easily available weapon: a particularly lethal form of rat poison called "Dushuqiang."

With case after lurid case being described in the state-controlled media, the Chinese government has had enough.

Authorities are executing perpetrators and seizing hundreds of tons of Dushuqiang, which translates as "strong rat poison." Police are warning that those caught supplying poison used in fatal attacks could face the death penalty, too.

Last month, Deputy Agriculture Minister Fan Xiaojian told an anti-Dushuqiang task force that while most illegal poison producers had been forced underground, the fight was not over.

"Local governments at various levels should wage large-scale and effective activities to investigate this poison, especially in the countryside," said Fan, quoted by the Communist Party newspaper People's Daily. "We should do this household to household and confiscate Dushuqiang from the hands of the masses."

Dushuqiang (pronounced doo-shoo-CHIANG) is said to be 100 times deadlier than cyanide. Just 5 milligrams -- a dusting -- can kill a human being, and it remains widely available despite a ban dating to the mid-1990s.

On Thursday, in the south-central province of Hunan, a man upset because his affair with a married woman was ending tried to poison her children, state media reported.

One died, but not before he shared rat poison-laced popcorn and oranges with his young classmates, killing a second child and sickening 25 others. The man, Wei Entan, 26, tried to kill himself with poison but police stopped him, the Beijing Morning Post reported.

In central China's Hubei province, a woman motivated by a long-standing family dispute was accused of poisoning the lunch at her husband's funeral last month. Chen Xiaomei had invited much of her village, and her alleged actions killed 10 people, including the local Communist Party secretary, and sickened 23.

"Chen was said to often quarrel bitterly with the eldest daughter-in-law," the official Xinhua News Agency said, adding that the families of Chen's two sons "had long feuded over issues such as division of property and support of their parents."

Other poisonings have involved business rivalries. In September last year, at least 38 people died in the eastern city of Nanjing when shop owner Chen Zhengping sprinkled Dushuqiang on food from another shop out of what China Central Television said was "resentment." He was executed the following month.

Wang Shizhou, a Peking University law professor, attributes part of the problem to the way rural China operates. It's rife with toxins such as rat poison, pesticides and herbicides, and villagers get little training in their use.

"In the countryside, people do not know what kinds of things will poison somebody," Wang said, and an assailant may simply want to sicken one person but end up killing a dozen.

"What they need is something to poison somebody," he said, and "Dushuqiang is so easy to get."

Law enforcement in China can be spotty, but penalties are swift and harsh. The aim is make examples to scare the population -- "beat the child to save the class," said Michael Dutton, a professor at the University of Melbourne in Australia who has written about policing in China.

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