Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Rising Tide - UPDATE 2

Again from Martyn, again from the South China Post:
Thursday, June 16, 2005

Distraught parents take payout for flood dead


Most parents of the 95 primary school children who
died in last week's flash flood in Heilongjiang
province accepted a 150,000-yuan compensation deal
yesterday, as authorities moved to stamp out protests
about the deaths.

Villagers allege that township officials and police
ignored their telephone calls for help before the
floods struck and were slow to mount a rescue

Although they were initially divided over the offer,
the parents of 86 children - including some who
earlier dismissed the amount on offer - put their
names to the compensation agreement, though not
without reluctance. As part of the agreement, the
parents waived the right to seek further redress from
the authorities.

Officials yesterday continued to insist that only 95
pupils and four villagers died when a flash flood hit
the Shalan Township Central Elementary School in
Ningan on Friday. Ten children are still listed as
missing. Some villagers allege that up to 200 died.

Wang Yongjun, whose 10-year-old son was killed, said
it no longer mattered how much compensation he
received. Having signed the agreement, Mr Wang could
see his son cremated today.

"The amount of money does not mean anything to me. My
child has been dead for six days already ... I cannot
see how we could drag on further with his body still
in a freezer in the funeral house," he said.

Dong Yanping said she was not happy with the amount of
compensation, but had no other option. "You cannot
recover all these years we have spent raising our
child with 150,000 yuan, but I have no strength to
pursue the matter."

Most of the villagers signed the compensation
agreement late yesterday morning as hopes for further
negotiations faded. Rumours were rife yesterday that
officials had reached deals with several villagers to
break the resolve of opponents of the compensation

Earlier yesterday, villagers had showed no sign of
backing down.

"Why has the government sent so many troops and police
to deal with us?" asked Gao Wenjun, who lost his
11-year-old niece in the flash floods. But he signed
the agreement later on, saying that "one ought to go
with the flow".

At least 15 trucks of PLA soldiers, hundreds of
government officials, police and plain-clothes
officers sealed off the funeral home where most of the
children's bodies are being kept, blocking access for
the children's grieving parents. The main road to the
funeral home from Ningan and Shalan was also closed.

Wang Tongtang, secretary-general of the Mudanjiang
Communist Party Committee, said officials were
confident of persuading the remaining parents to sign
the agreement this morning.

Reporters have been banned from the scene.

"[The event] is not suitable for media coverage. This
decision was reached late last night by top leaders of
Mudanjiang city [which oversees Ningan]," said Tang
Jiawei, director of Mudanjiang's publicity department.

"If you want to continue your coverage of the
aftermath, you should go to Shalan where we have
arranged media activities."
If anyone needed any further evidence as to why an unfettered press is needed in China, I hope this would be it. What other recourse do these parents have? At the very least, shouldn't their stories be heard?

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