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April 13, 2011

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Cemetery blames damaged tomb on 'ghosts'

A SHANGHAI family is demanding 1 million yuan (US$152,900) in compensation from a cemetery in Suzhou after their parents' tomb was damaged and graveyard management officials blamed the incident on "ghosts."

Cemetery officials said yesterday they will reply to the family's demand within two days. The family has said they are willing to go to court if the settlement offer isn't fair.

On March 26, Shao Huanyi and 21 of his relatives were stunned when they found his parents' tomb heavily damaged at Suzhou Fenghuang Cemetary. His mother's urn was gone along with his father's personal belongings.

Five family representatives visited the cemetery yesterday to negotiate compensation after cemetery managers told them they were unable to locate the missing urn.

During the discussion, Shen Wen-yuan, director of the cemetery's management office, admitted that security guards were not on duty after 4pm. The graveyard also does not have a wall around its perimeter or surveillance cameras.

Speaking in front of TV cameras and reporters, Shen said no guards were on duty at night because many feared "ghosts" would wander around the graveyard.

"Many security guards quit because they don't want to patrol the cemetery late at night. They were terrified to see strange figures when shining flashlights on the tombs," said Shen.

The explanation enraged the family members, who said the officials were blaming "ghosts" for their own lax security measures.

Although the cemetery collects more than 3 million yuan in fees annually from owners of 30,000 tombs, stolen urns were reported frequently at the graveyard over the past few years.

Thieves broke into the cemetery in the middle of night and stole one urn from a tomb last year. The thieves phoned cemetery officials to blackmail them, but were caught by police when they showed up to collect the money.

According to Suzhou police, they have caught other thieves who destroyed tombs simply for the urns or personal items.

Suzhou police said in Shao's case, the thieves may have simply targeted the urn itself or the personal belongings.

But they said they haven't ruled out the possibility cemetery workers mistakenly damaged the tomb.


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