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Agence France-Presse
Beijing, February 22, 2013
Villagers in central China who secretly rebuilt tombs after they were flattened by officials to provide more farmland are being forsced to pull them down again, domestic media reported Thursday. Authorities caused uproar last year in Henan province by demolishing two million tombs, and residents re-erected hundreds of thousands of them over the Lunar New Year holiday that ended last week, the Southern Metropolis Daily said.

Respect for ancestors is a deeply ingrained aspect of Chinese culture, with a major annual festival dedicated to maintaining tombs, and officials halted the "flatten graves to return farmland" policy in November in the wake of the outcry.

But a report in the Henan Daily newspaper -- the Communist Party mouthpiece for the province -- said residents had "misunderstood" new rules on burials, wrongly believing that authorities would not act to remove rebuilt tombs.

A local official quoted in the Southern Metropolis Daily said: "The action of flattening the tombs for the second time is proceeding. This started on February 14 and is nearing completion."

The newspaper quoted online forum users saying officials were threatening residents with fines if they did not remove the rebuilt tombs.

China's government encourages cremation, citing a shortage of land for burials, but many in the countryside continue to construct tombs due to traditional beliefs.

An official in Zhoukou city, which has been at the centre of the tomb-clearing policy, told AFP Thursday he was unable to confirm whether rebuilt tombs were being removed.