BEIJING, July 24 (Reuters) - Dozens of ethnic Mongolian herders ended up in hospital after they clashed with Chinese hired by a local businessman who had tried to seize their land last week in China's restive northern region of Inner Mongolia, a rights group said.
Inner Mongolia was rocked by protests in May over the death of an ethnic Mongolian herder who was hit by a truck after taking part in protests against pollution caused by a coal mine.
Angry ethnic Mongolians at that time took to the streets across Inner Mongolia demanding better protection of the environment as well as their rights, traditions and land, in the worst unrest to hit the normally tranquil region in years.
In the latest incident, herders protested against the local government for allowing a Han Chinese businessman "to illegally grab a large piece of their grazing land for cultivation", the New York-based Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Centre said.
The businessman "hired more than 200 Chinese to kill dozens of livestock with their heavy vehicles and bulldozers and to beat up local Mongolian herders who resisted the occupation of their land", it said in a statement received on Sunday.
A herder called Baatar "was brutally beaten up by these Chinese on the morning of July 18, while he was tending his sheep on his grazing land", the group added, saying dozens of others were also hospitalised.
The Bairin Right Banner government, where the latest incident happened, sent some 300 riot police and officials to quell the unrest, it said. The local government could not immediately be reached for comment.
"We have been impoverished; we have lost our lands to the Chinese; we have been plundered of our natural resources; our livestock are perishing; many of us have become homeless on our own lands," the group cited an online petition as saying.
"We are treated with no dignity. We must stand up to defend our human rights rather than being silently killed by the Chinese army."
In June, a court in Inner Mongolia handed out a death sentence and life in jail for two men charged with the homicide of the ethnic Mongolian herder that set off the original protests in May.
Beijing, ever worried by threats to stability, has been trying to address some of the protesters' broader concerns about the damage done by development to traditional grazing lands, taking particular aim at coal miners.
Ethnic Mongolians, who make up less than 20 percent of the roughly 24 million population of Inner Mongolia, have long complained that their traditional grazing lands have been ruined by mining and desertification, and that the government has marginalized their culture and language.
The government says it is committed to offering ethnic Mongolians a high degree of autonomy, but has show no sign of loosening its grip on the resource-rich, strategically located region, which borders Russia and Mongolia. (Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Yoko Nishikawa)