About 200 residents of three villages around Tai Ho Wan in northern Lantau Island launched a violent protest on Sunday, using hoes and bulldozers to destroy part of a mangrove forest to show their discontent with the area being declared protected, Apple Daily reported Monday.
The Hong Kong government in March gazetted about 4.64 hectares in the area as of special scientific value and has forbidden any development action as well as house construction close to the area.
To the residents of Pak Mong, Ngau Kwu Long and Tai Ho San Tsuen villages, the policy has infringed on their rights to plant crops and to small house grants which entitle each male villager 18 or older to build one small house.
A village spokesman said putting the area under protection is similar to seizing their private property. He asked for negotiations with the Environment Bureau chief.
The Planning Department said it will enforce the law if the protest action is deemed illegal.
The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department said any illegal chopping or destruction of trees or growing of plants on government land could incur a fine of HK$25,000 (US$3,226) and one year in prison.
Some environmental groups view the damage done by the villagers as violent and asked the government to strictly enforce the law.
Green Power chief executive Man Chi-sum said the mangrove forest has ecological value and is a habitat of many species.
The Save Lantau Alliance said the villagers are in fact threatening the government in order to profit from the land.
Several similar protests have occurred in recent years such as the ones in Tai Long Sai Wan in Sai Kung and Yi O San Tsuen in Lantau Island.
Environmental groups believe any violent act would not help the situation but the government is also to blame for its closed-door planning.
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