Land confiscation is the most frequent subject of petitions made by Chinese farmers, with complaints about village finances and environmental pollution coming next, a senior agriculture official said on Tuesday.
Chen Xiwen, director of the office of the central leading group on rural work, said that government officials "should not turn a deaf ear to farmers' requests".
"Neither should government officials brush aside farmers' petitions claiming that they are trivial," he said at a press conference held by the Information Office of the State Council.
Chen urged governments at various levels to "get acquainted with farmers' requests and endeavor to have their problems resolved".
He warned that if governments failed to address farmers' issues in a timely and efficient manner, a single petition could lead to "a mass incident" involving public protests or even a riot.
The number of "mass incidents" attributed to Chinese farmers declined last year and the numbers of those who died from such incidents or got arrested were also down, Chen said, without revealing specifics.
But chief judge Xiao Yang told a national judicial meeting earlier this month that "mass incidents" should be given additional attention because they have become a conspicuous problem that disturbs social stability.
The Ministry of Public Security said that 87,000 mass incidents were reported in 2005, up 6.6 percent on 2004 and 50 percent on 2003.
Although the central government has repeatedly underlined the significance of protecting arable land, some farmers are still losing farm land and not being sufficiently compensated.
The government didn't say what proportion of the farmers' petitions were related to land confiscation. But Chen said that the situation was improving as government regulations were implemented.
Citing a central government document issued in 2004, Chen said that compensation for farmers who lose their farm land must be increased and that local governments are also responsible for providing vocational training and re-employment services.
Under the document, the government would expand the social security insurance which now mainly covers the urban population to rural areas.
"All of these measures are gradually being implemented," Chen said.
(Xinhua News Agency January 30, 2007)