BEIJING, May 30 (UPI) -- Parts of China's Inner Mongolia region remain under tight security after the government announced it will put a Chinese miner on trial for allegedly killing a Mongolian man.
Ethnic Mongolians continue to gather and protest the death of the man who died during a protest at a mine two weeks ago.
Chinese authorities have been increasing police and paramilitary forces in the region since May 10 when a 35-year-old herdsman trying to protect his land was allegedly run down and killed by an ethnically Han Chinese van driver.
Police said they also have another suspect in custody in the death of the herdsman.
The incidents have exacerbated tensions between ethnic Mongolians, who make up 20 percent of the population of 25 million. They're concerned that their culture and nomadic way of life is under threat by the growing number of Han Chinese moving into the region.
Police armed with batons are reportedly posted at the main square in Hohhot, capital of the Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region, and aren't allowing people access to the public area.
Armed police also have taken up positions in some universities and high schools to check papers and are turning some people away.
The government disrupted access to the Internet and closed Internet cafes in a move that some critics claim is similar to martial law.
"Chinese authorities have declared martial law in major cities of the Mongolian region including Hohhot, Tongliao, Ulaanhad (Chifing in Chinese) and Dongsheng in the face of mass protests by students and herders," a statement on the Web site of the Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center in New York, said.
"Tight security has been imposed as the authorities attempt to quash any protest and unrest," the statement said.
Access to the region is limited but a local resident told the BBC the Mongolian culture is under threat.
"In the past Mongolian herdsmen seldom held protests but now they are rising up because the damage to the grassland is so serious, plus the desertification, lack of rain that it is becoming intolerable," said the resident, who unnamed.
The BBC also reported that references to the demonstrations are being taken down from Internet sites.
Almas Sharnud, an activist in Tongliao, speaking to SMHRIC by phone, said plainclothes security men are more apparent on the streets.
"I have been put under home confinement and if I want to go out I must get approval," he said. "Two security personnel follow me publicly when I go out. Several friends told me that on the morning of May 28 hundreds of Mongols gathered near the Sharmurun Square but reportedly they were immediately dispersed by the army deployed from the Shen Yang Military District."
"There are increasing conflicts between herders and miners as the authorities open up more mines in the grasslands to meet their goal of turning Inner Mongolia into the nation's energy base."
In the past decade, Inner Mongolia has become China's leading producer of coal and rare earth elements. But this has produced disquiet among the generally peaceful population who fear their way of life -- and their traditional grassland environment -- is changing forever, SMHRIC said.
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