BEIJING (Reuters) - Some 1.5 million residents of Beijing will be displaced by the time it hosts the 2008 Olympics, many of them evicted against their will, a rights group said on Tuesday, prompting a sharp denial by China.
The Geneva-based Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) said residents were often forced from their homes with little notice and little compensation, as the government embarks on a massive city redevelopment to accommodate the Games.
"In Beijing, and in China more generally, the process of demolition and eviction is characterized by arbitrariness and lack of due process," the group said in a report.
After demolition, inhabitants were often "forced to relocate far from their communities and workplaces, with inadequate transportation networks adding significantly to their cost of living," the group said.
Beijing's Olympic organizing committee and China's Foreign Ministry said the report was groundless and the figures vastly inflated, with only 6,037 people displaced since 2002 for the construction of Olympic stadiums.
"During the process, the citizens have had their compensation property settled. No single person was forced to move out of Beijing," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told a regular news conference.
Across China, battles between residents and property developers have become commonplace as breakneck development swallows up swathes of rural land and as cities raze sections to make way for skyscrapers and shopping malls.
Recourse to adequate compensation varied widely, the housing rights watchdog said, adding that those who suffer a significant decline in their living conditions as a result of their relocation could be as high as 20 percent.
"As soon as you are evicted, you lose part of your livelihood," the group cited one resident as saying.
In one neighborhood, many who were relocated complained that even if they received compensation they could not afford to pay management fees and unsubsidized electricity and water charges.
While dislocations were common among cities around the world hosting major events, the group noted that in China, where the Communist Party keeps a tight rein on dissent, there was only a limited role for the media or grassroots groups to publicize abuses or advocate change.
Residents who spoke to COHRE's researchers also alleged corruption on the part of local governments, which they said accepted illegal payments from developers.
The group noted several cases of housing rights lawyers and activists who were imprisoned, including Ye Guozhu, who was sentenced to four years in jail in December 2004 for organizing protests against forced evictions.
Particularly vulnerable to abuses were Beijing's population of poor, rural migrants, who often live in urban villages on the city's outskirts.
The International Olympic Committee said it was seeking a better understanding of how mega-events like the Olympics impact displacement through a meeting with the U.N. Special Rapporteur for Adequate Housing.
"As a matter of principle, how the Olympic Games impact people's lives is an important matter for the IOC," its communications director, Giselle Davies, said in an e-mail.