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Gov't names and shames land grabbing officials
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The Chinese government on Monday publicly named and shamed officials who had illegally snatch farmland as part of a major campaign to end illegal developments.

At a joint press conference held by the Ministry of Supervision and the Ministry of Land and Resources (MLR), Gan Zangchun, deputy director-general of the land inspection authority, exposed ten cases of misappropriation.

One of the worst cases involved the government of Kaiping city, Guangdong Province, which illegally appropriated 29,785 mu (1,985.67 hectares) for non-agricultural use, of which 28,393 mu was proved to be farmland, from May 2002 to September 2005.

The city government continued illegal appropriation even after the central government ordered a suspension on farmland expropriation in 2004, the MLR said.

The MLR's Guangdong branch had ordered the city government to return 27,484 mu of unaltered farmland to the owners. Developers who knowingly built on the other 2,300 mu, which was under or finished, would face fines.

Zhao Ruizhang, secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) committee of Kaiping city, was stripped of his Party post. Vice Mayor Liang Heping was given Party and administrative penalties, and former vice mayor Li Xueming was expelled from a Party post and dismissed from the administrative post.

In another case, the village committee of Baitangkou, in Xinzhuang township in north China's Tianjin municipality, illegally leased 803 mu of farmland to 63 companies and individuals for commercial construction use in May 2004.

Between 2004 and 2006, the economic development center of the Xinzhuang township expropriated 600 mu of farmland from Baitangkou village and sold 400 mu to a Tianjin-based company for non-agricultural construction.

The Tianjin MLR bureau had ordered the Xinzhuang township government to return the 600 mu of farmland. It also ordered the dismantling of 20 projects covering 60.54 mu, and the confiscation of the other 43 projects on the remaining leased land.

The bureau also required the Baitangkou village committee to allocate an area the same size as the leased land as farmland.

Tian Jinghua, former Party chief of the Baitangkou village, and Liu Baohua, former head of the village committee, were referred for prosecution.

Gan detailed one other case in Tianjin, two in Heilongjiang Province, one in Hubei Province, one in Hunan Province, one in Guangdong, and two in Shaanxi Province. However, he failed to name the officials involved in some of these cases.

Since October 2006, China has undertaken a series of campaigns to stop land misappropriation and to punish the officials responsible. The moves are to ensure farmland area remains above 1.8 billion mu (120 million hectares).

Between the launch of the initial campaign and the beginning of 2007, about 870 officials have been referred for prosecution, including more than 160 who have been charged with various crimes.

The ministries launched a special campaign in October 2006 to verify the legality of all cases in which local governments allocated farmland for commercial construction from January 2005 to September 2006.

By the beginning of this year, 22,395 illegal land appropriation cases had been reported. These involved sections of farmland up to 32,873 hectares. A total of 13,059 cases had been concluded. In addition, 1,488 officials were given Party and political disciplinary punishment.

In July, the ministries issued a circular announcing the special campaign would continue. In September, a 100-day campaign was launched to verify the legality of all cases in which local governments allocated farmland for commercial construction from October 2006 to July 2007.

During the campaign, 105 officials were disciplined for their involvement in land misappropriation.

Qu Wanxiang, the Supervision Ministry Vice Minister, said at the press conference that the crackdown enhanced public awareness of the law. It also curbed a rebound in land grabs and played a positive role in implementing macro-control measures.

Land violations have become a sensitive issue as the central government order promulgated in 2004 to implement "the strictest land management policy" continued to hit snags at local levels.

China has seen a continuous shrinkage in farmland. At the end of 2006, its arable land declined by 306,000 hectares to 121.8 million hectares from the year-earlier level of 122 million hectares.

The government has repeatedly vowed to keep a minimum total farmland area of 1.8 billion mu and urged local governments to implement macro-control measures.

(Xinhua News Agency December 11, 2007)

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