Hundreds of farmers yesterday rallied in front of the Executive Yuan in Taipei to protest the Council of Indigenous Peoples “forcibly removing” them from their homes and “confiscating” their farmland.
Wu Tien-yu (吳天祐), chairman of the Taiwan Association for the Rights of Non-Aboriginal Residents in Mountain Indigenous Townships, led the rally, which was attended by members of the Association for the Rights of Nantou County Residents and farmers’ groups nationwide.
Wu accused the council of political persecution by launching lawsuits against the members of his organization and affiliated farmers’ groups, saying that it had unfairly labeled them as “intruding outsiders illegally occupying Aboriginal territory.”
“Many of our members have lived in the mountains for several generations, cultivating crops for their livelihoods. Most have legally obtained use of their land, and have paid land leases and other fees,” Wu said.
“The government has done much to protect the rights of Aboriginal people, but what about non-Aboriginal farmers? Our rights are being violated, but no one speaks up for us. We are farmers and residents in these townships, so we must be treated fairly as well, because we too are citizens of this country,” he said.
The groups brought Taoist priests to conduct a traditional ceremony involving prayer and chanting to seek divine help for their cause.
The farmers presented petitions to the Executive Yuan and the council demanding that laws be amended to permit the sale, ownership and leasing of the lands they cultivate, and to legalize the land ownership of farmers cultivating forest land.
They also demanded eligibility for farmers’ insurance and subsidies for agricultural damage from typhoons and other natural disasters.
Wu presented reports and figures showing that there are 70,000 “Han farmers” and non-Aboriginal residents with household registry in Aboriginal districts.
When their family members are included, it totals about 200,000 people, Wu said.
“The government and the council must not ignore our existence. [We] have been cultivating and taking up agriculture in Aboriginal areas for generations,” he added.
Other group members said that the council has taken up litigation to force them out on alleged breaches of the Soil and Water Conservation Act (水土保持法), the Forestry Act (森林法) and other laws, citing a case from last year in which an 82-year-old woman was indicted and later sentenced to three months in prison.
“She had only built a simple hut as her residence and grew some fruit trees on designated Aboriginal land. This old lady had been living in this place for more than 50 years,” Wu said.
“The court convicted her for breaching the Soil and Water Conservation Act, but the law was enacted in 1994 and exempted residents who had already been residing in the affected districts, so the prosecution in the case was unjustified,” he added.
The council in a statement said that the Regulations on Development and Management of the Lands Reserved for Indigenous Peoples (原住民保留地開發管理辦法) take into consideration the land use rights of Aborigines and non-Aborigines, and “as long as non-Aboriginal residents do not contravene the law or breach leasing contracts, they can continue with current land use... The government has no plans to take back all the lands as the farmers’ groups have claimed.”
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