BEIJING (AP) — Disgruntled Chinese military veterans converged on Beijing this week in a protest over what they say is the government's failure to make good on promised pensions, medical insurance and other benefits.
On Thursday, a website maintained by a veterans group and postings on Chinese social media said about 1,000 former soldiers from around the country joined in a sit-in protest Tuesday at the petitions office under the central military command.
The reports said they were part of a group of about 3,000 that had arrived recently in the capital, while several thousand more had been prevented from coming to Beijing by authorities in their hometowns.
Such protests have grown increasingly common among aging veterans and are treated as extremely politically sensitive by the ruling Communist Party that commands total control over the armed forces. China's entirely state-controlled media made no mention of Tuesday's protest and military spokesmen said they had no knowledge of it.
In a petition posted on the site junhunw.cn, the veterans said they were now aged in their 50s, 60s and 70s and in need of health care, income subsidies and other benefits promised to them under more than 40 laws and decrees issued by the central government.
The veterans represented fought in 1969 border clashes with the former Soviet Union and China's 1979 invasion of northern Vietnam and also participated in the Chinese nuclear bomb development program.
The petition said local governments had consistently failed to provide the services, adding that the central government's orders were unclear. Officials in Beijing, meanwhile, referred them back to the local governments for assistance, while several veterans who'd protested their treatment had been arrested, detained and given multi-year prison sentences, it said.
"This is a show of disrespect to the veterans, a rank injustice, and black mark on the nation and a blow to the credibility of the law," the statement said.
In Tuesday's sit-in, the bulk of the veterans were bussed to a sprawling detention center used to house petitioners from out of town while their chief representatives held talks with military officials.
While they were promised that their concerns would be addressed, they were warned that the sit-in was illegal, the website said, adding that the talks ended on an "unpleasant note." Organizers decided to end the action that evening and the veterans began returning home, the site said.
Organizer Tang Xin told The Associated Press by telephone that Tuesday's action had been part of a nationwide mobilization of veterans to better assert their rights.
"This was a highly organized action," Tang said.
There was no indication any veterans had been arrested, although the U.S. government-funded station Radio Free Asia said several had been intercepted and forcibly returned home by police from their places of residence.
China's ruling communists seized power in a civil war in 1949 and have long drawn their legitimacy from their control of the armed forces and defender of Chinese sovereignty. Despite that, veterans from World War II, the Chinese civil war, the Korean War and other conflicts have long complained of shabby treatment.
Associated Press video journalist Isolda Morillo contributed to this report.