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President asks for coordination over farmland controversy

President asks for coordination over farmland controversy

Taipei, July 18 (CNA) After an overnight sit-in by farmers outside the Presidential Office to protest the expropriation of their land, President Ma Ying-jeou instructed Premier Wu Den-yih Sunday to coordinate with local governments to resolve the issue appropriately.
Presidential Office spokesman Lo Chih-chiang said at a press conference that President Ma is very concerned over the matter and has asked Wu to seek a resolution based on consideration of the farmers' feelings.
Nearly 1,000 people, including farmers and farming activists, protested on Ketagalan Boulevard in front of the Presidential Office Saturday night to voice their opposition to a series of recent land takeovers by the government for development projects.
Nine farming communities in Hsinchu, Miaoli, Taichung, Changhua, Taoyuan and Taipei counties have faced or may face losses of land at the hands of the authorities.
After the overnight sit-in, the demonstrators, including elderly farmers in their 80s and 90s, planted rice seedlings on the Presidential Office plaza in the morning and conducted a ritual worshipping the Farm God of Five Grains.
They appealed to the government to amend the law governing land expropriation and stop abusing farmers by taking away their farmland or improperly rezoning land.
Although farmers in these communities have been fighting land expropriation for years, their outcry did not gain much public attention until the Miaoli County government in June sent in excavators escorted by police to dig up rice paddies in the village of Dapu in the county's Jhunan Township.
The Dapu farmers said at the time that despite their vehement objections, the Miaoli County government is forcibly taking over their ancestral farmland to sell it to a computer company in a move that will add 23 hectares to the Jhunan Science Park.
Miaoli farmers have already traveled to Taipei seven times to stage protests against the county government's forced expropriation plan.
Tsai Pei-hui, an assistant professor with Shih Hsin University and spokeswoman of the Taiwan Rural Front, and Hsu Shih-jung, a professor with National Chengchi University's Department of Land Economics, accompanied 10 farmers to enter the Presidential Office to hand out an appeal after the god-worshipping ritual.
To their chagrin, Tsai and Hsu said the group was met by a guard on duty at the Presidential Office.
Before they left in disappointment, however, the guard called Chen Yung-feng, director-general of the Department of Public Affairs under the Presidential Office, who accepted their petition and said it would be referred to the Executive Yuan and the Miaoli County government.
"It was over with in two minutes," Tsai and Hsu said.
Contending that agriculture is of the same importance as industrial development, Tsai said the group's petition calls for an immediate halt to development projects on which local governments and businessmen appear to be colluding; the passage of amendments to the land expropriation law; and the convening of a national conference in six months on agricultural and land policies.
(By Garfie Li, Yang Su-min and Deborah Kuo)