BEIJING — The Chinese police have detained at least 39 ethnic Mongol herders protesting over land rights in the northern Chinese region of Inner Mongolia, a United States-based rights group said yesterday, in the latest incident of unrest in the coal-rich region.
The protests are the latest flare-up of ethnic tension in China. Sporadic violence breaks out in both the far western Xinjiang region and in Tibetan areas, which have long chafed at Chinese rule.
The herders were detained on Monday when more than 100 people demonstrated outside a local government building in the city of Bayannur, the Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center said in a statement.
Protesters told the rights group that riot police beat them with electric batons.
Ethnic Mongols in China have long complained that mining and desertification have destroyed their traditional grazing lands and that the government has forced them to settle in permanent dwellings in defiance of their herding traditions.
The protests came after Chinese Premier Li Keqiang visited the region last week. Demonstrators protested in the regional capital of Hohhot from March 26 to 28, the group said, calling for an end to “illegal land grabs” and for Han Chinese miners and farmers to vacate traditional grasslands.
Protesters were taken back to their homes by hundreds of local police, the group said.
Calls seeking comment to the Inner Mongolia government’s propaganda office, which handles media enquiries, either went unanswered, or were met with curt refusals to answer questions.
China jailed six herders in the resource-rich region in January after they tried to defend grazing land from expropriation by a forestry firm in a case that led to widespread protests.
Ethnic Mongols now make up less than 20 per cent of the region’s population of about 24 million. Before the Communist revolution in 1949, Mongols far outnumbered majority Han Chinese.
The US has expressed concern about the fate of China’s most famous Mongol dissident, Hada, who was detained almost as soon as he completed a 15-year sentence for separatism in 2010. Reuters