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Ministry Probes Land Abuses

Two local officials in Shandong Province have been arrested for alleged bribe-taking connected to land-use activities, the Ministry of Land and Resources disclosed Monday in Beijing.

The two officials -- Wang Yan, assistant to the mayor of Qingdao, East China's Shandong Province, and Yu Zhijun, director of the Education and Sports Bureau of Qingdao -- are accused by prosecutors of taking briberies to endorse illegal land acquisitions in the city's Laoshan District in year 2001.

The two then respectively headed Laoshan District and the district's land authority, and ordered the illegal acquisitions of 262 hectares of land from rural collectives, 97 hectares of which have so far been occupied.

The ministry kicked off an unprecedented nationwide probe into rampant land abuses last July and spoke out Monday about what might happen to local officials implicated in the investigation.

Five of the nine major land abuse cases the ministry publicly disclosed at the end of last year have so far been investigated, said Zhang Xinbao, director of the supervision division of the ministry.

The other three land abuse cases took place in Nanchang, capital of East China's Jiangxi Province, North China's Tianjin and Northwest China's Shaanxi Province. All the responsible local officials have received administrative punishments.

Related Chinese laws stipulate acquisition of any piece of arable land larger than 70 hectares must be approved by the Ministry of Land and Resources.

Zhang said the rest 165 hectares of land will either be left aside for further disposal or to be returned to farmers for cultivation.

The developers of the projects already under construction on the questioned land can apply to local land authority for necessary land-use certificates. Any losses to the State and to rural collectives from land transfers will fall on the Laoshan District government for compensation.

Local officials responsible for illegal construction of a 79-hectare golf course in Qihe County, East China's Shandong Province, have been subject to administrative demotion and stern inner-Party disciplinary warnings.

Zhang admitted the illegal construction of the golf links has caused severe destruction of 32.5 hectares of basic agricultural land, highly productive arable land which was not supposed to be transferred to other uses.

But the construction was approved by the leadership of the county as a whole, instead of any individual official.

Handing out administrative punishments to leading county officials was deemed the most suitable course of action in the case, Zhang said.

Zhang hopes severe punishment can forestall other land abuses by local officials.

He said no one involved in such cases can expect to get away with the crimes without completing several pages' self-criticism, he said.

Local officials' who do not enforce current land management laws and regulations is leading to the country's continuous loss of arable land, according to Zhang.

Last year alone, China lost 2.53 million hectares of arable land, 50 percent more than that lost in the previous year. The country's total area of cultivated land at the end of year 2003 was 123 million hectares.

(China Daily March 16, 2004)


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