BEIJING (Reuters) - A herder in northern China's Inner Mongolia who had been protesting destruction of traditional grazing land has died after being hit by an oil transport truck, an overseas rights group said on Monday.
A similar incident in May, when another herder died after being struck by a coal truck, set off rare protests by minority ethnic Mongolians demanding better protection of their lands, rights and traditions.
The latest case happened in Uushin Banner, near Ordos city, where the dead herder, identified as Zorigt, was part of a group
trying to protect grazing lands from trucks carrying oil and gas which had killed livestock, the Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center said.
"During a number of confrontations between the local Mongolian herders and the Shuurhei Oil-Gas Field transporters, Zorigt and others were beaten and hospitalized several times previously," the New York-based group said in an emailed statement.
Zorigt, the group said, "was killed by a Chinese oil transport truck as he tried to protect his grazing lands."
The Uushin Banner, or county, government said in a statement on its website (www.wsq.gov.cn) that Zorigt died after being hit by the truck while trying to overtake it in a motorcycle. Many ethnic Mongolians in China go by only one name.
The statement, posted on Saturday, said truck driver Li Youliang drove around a man standing in the road, later confirmed to be Zorigt. The herder, it said, sped after the truck on a motorcycle and tried to overtake it, but collided with it and was seriously injured, dying later in hospital.
The truck driver was taken into custody, the government said.
The rights group said the government had been putting messages on Internet chatrooms urging people to disregard rumors about what it said was a simple traffic accident.
"Some people who have hidden intentions are interpreting it as an ethnic problem or a conflict with the oil and natural gas development. The government of Uushin Banner is taking the case extremely seriously," it quoted one message as saying.
Inner Mongolia is a region of China bordering Mongolia -- a separate, independent country.
Ethnic Mongolians, who make up under 20 percent of Inner Mongolia's 24 million population, say their grazing lands have been ruined by mining and desertification and that the government has tried to resettle them in permanent houses.
Inner Mongolia, which covers more than a tenth of China's land mass, is supposed to enjoy a high degree of self-rule, but Mongolians say the Han Chinese majority holds the power and has been the main beneficiaries of economic development.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Ron Popeski)