BEIJING (AFP) - Hundreds of police officers and hired thugs stormed an "AIDS village" in central China last month, smashing TVs and windows, indiscriminately beating up residents and arresting 13 farmers, villagers said.
The incident, which happened at 11:00 pm on June 22, is the most extreme known case of a police crackdown on farmers in central Chinas Henan province who are devastated by an AIDS (news - web sites) outbreak and are demanding more government help.
The raid on Xiongqiao village highlights the governments problem in dealing with a scandal involving HIV (news - web sites)-tainted blood.
Up to a million farmers are believed to have contracted the HIV virus (news - web sites) after selling blood in unsanitary government-approved blood stations in the mid-1980s to mid-1990s, devastating whole villages.
About 700 of the 3,000 residents in Xiongqiao have been diagnosed as HIV positive, and 400 of them have developed AIDS, villagers said.
Police officials in Shangcai county, Wulong township, where Xiongqiao village is located, confirmed 13 farmers were detained and that three others arrested separately were also being held.
They said the villagers were arrested for robbery and because they had attacked government offices -- including the township government office, police station and the countys communist party office.
They did not say what the villagers were meant to have stolen.
"Their actions constitute a violation of laws. They will be charged with robbery and attacking state offices," said an official in the Shangcai county police stations criminal division.
Police also confirmed "many" officers went to the village that night, but did not offer details.
Relatives and several farmers in the village, still sounding shaken by the incident, told AFP 500 to 600 uniformed officers, said to be anti-riot police, and plain-clothes men, believed to be hired thugs, raided the village that night.
"They turned off the electricity and cut the telephone lines. ... They smashed windows and broke televisions," said a man whose mother-in-law was in hospital after being hit in the upper arm.
"They broke down doors and started beating people with clubs, not caring who they were hitting. They even hit children," said a woman from the village who declined to be identified.
"Some farmers ran. Some farmers just wanted to know what was going on and they were beaten too," said another farmer from a neighboring village."
Farmers gave varying reasons on why the police took such strong actions.
One woman said farmers had repeatedly gone to government offices in groups to complain because local officials had not issued monthly government subsidies of about 200 yuan (24 US dollars) for AIDS patients to buy medicine.
Some farmers also refused to turn over portions of their harvest as required.
Others believed the raid happened because farmers angered by county officials demanding a share of their harvest got into a scuffle with the officials earlier in the month and overturned their vehicle.
Police arrested three farmers that day.
Despite the central government finally admitting to the blood-selling AIDS scandal in 2001, after initial silence, the incidents indicate farmers remain in a desperate situation, unable to pay for effective medicine while supporting their families.
The county police official said the arrested farmers, some believed to be AIDS sufferers, face sentences of three to five years jail.
He accused farmers of being "bullies".
"They beat up the Wulong townships police station director and deputy township director and the local family planning director," he said.
Farmers said the arrests were broadcast on the county television station.
"This was done to suppress farmers," a man who has HIV said.
"Theyre using these farmers to send a message to other AIDS sufferers to not cause any trouble otherwise the same can happen to them."
According to UN estimates, up to 1.5 million people in China had HIV by December 2001, and the number could reach 10 million by 2010.