© Agence France-PresseResidents of Wukan rally to demand the government take action over illegal land grabs and the death of a local leader while in police custody.
The first cracks have appeared in the resolve of Wukan, the rebel Chinese village that has defied a police siege for five days.

Wukan, about 150 kilometres east of Hong Kong, in Guangdong Province, rose up after the December 11 death of a villager while in police custody.

Local officials said Xue Jinbo, 42, died of heart failure. He was ''suspected'' of leading more than 400 villagers to ''vent their anger'' over a land dispute, the official Xinhua news agency said.

About 30 residents have gone over to the government's side, according to sources in the village, and are trying too persuade others to join them.

The group are offering rice and cooking oil, both increasingly scarce, to villagers who are willing to leave their signatures on a blank document that could be used to show support for the government's actions.

''They want the signatures so they can use them later to show the village actually approves of the local government's plans,'' said Chen Xidong, 23, one of the villagers. ''These men were bought off by the local government. But no one signed, apart from some seven-year-old kids who did not know better.'' Mr Chen said the 30 defectors had also shadowed senior villagers during a rally on Thursday, the fourth large protest this week by residents upset at having their land sold off to property developers.

Mr Chen insisted that the vast majority of Wukan's 20,000 residents were united and determined to face down the local government, but there is a fear that the authorities may offer food and cash to people to switch sides.

Village leaders are thought to be on a wanted list, and some are worried that the defectors may try to turn them in.

The government said it would ''severely punish'' the men it believes are leading the rebellion.

Wu Zili, the acting mayor of Shanwei county, said the government would resolve the situation ''according to the law'', taking the villagers' demands into consideration. He warned that the authorities would crack down on anyone who incited the villagers.

In a statement to state media, Mr Wu named two of the village's representatives, Lin Zulian and Yang Semao, as ringleaders.

''Since December 8, Lin Zulian and Yang Semao organised and incited the villagers to set up barricades around the village. They did this to prevent officials from entering the village and to stop the perpetrators of the earlier riots from leaving the village and turning themselves in to the authorities,'' he said.

Since Sunday, Wukan has been besieged by police stopping food and water getting in, and residents from leaving. All the village's Communist Party officials and police have fled.

Mr Lin, one of the 13 representatives chosen to represent the village in negotiations with the government, is being guarded behind steel doors.

''He is a former army man with connections to the central government,'' said Mr Yang. ''He is a man of substance who we all trust.''

Yesterday, despite the government's bombast, Mr Lin again received a delegation from the local authorities.