Villagers raise their hands as they gather for a meeting in Wukan village of Lufeng
Villagers raise their hands as they gather for a meeting in Wukan village of Lufeng, Guangdong province December 12, 2011. A man accused of taking part in a riot over land grabs in the southern Chinese village of Wukan has died in police custody, threatening to fan tension in a small pocket of export-dependent Guangdong province that has become a source of persistent unrest. The government in Shanwei, an area that includes Wukan in its jurisdiction, said that Xue Jinbo fell ill on December 11, 2011, his third day in detention over the riot. Hospital doctors later pronounced him dead. Picture taken December 12, 2011. REUTERS

Anger with the selling of their land to real estate developers without their consent, compounded by the death of one of their appointed mediators, thousands of Chinese villagers in the southern China village of Wukan found themselves in a locked stand-off with authorities Wednesday.

After the local Communist Party and police forces fled the town, Chinese police placed the 20,000 residents of Wukan under siege for staging an open rebellion against the local Communist party, according to reports.

The long-running dispute between farmers and local officers came to a head after residents learned that one of the 13 representatives they had selected to negotiate with the local Communist Party -- Xue Jinbo -- had died in police custody, The New York Times reported. The authorities say a heart attack killed the 42-year-old man, but relatives say his body bore signs of torture.

According to a 24-year-old villager who described himself as Mr. Xue's son-in-law, his knees were bruised, his nostrils were caked with blood and his thumbs appeared to be broken, the Times reported.

We assume the handcuffs left the marks on his wrists, and his knees were bruised slightly when he knelt, Luo Bin, deputy chief of the Zhongshan University forensics medical center told the Xinhua news agency.

Late last week, the police reportedly started blocking roads leading to Wukan in an attempt to end the stand-off and cut off all supplies going in and out. A Daily Telegraph reporter managed to sneak past the police checkpoint and reported that the village has only about 10 days' worth of food left.

The row between farmers and local officers has been simmering since September, when thousands took to the streets in protest of the local government's role in the land-grab, storming the Communist Party offices smashing windows, flipping over vehicles and clashing with riot police, ABC News reported.

The tipping point came over the weekend when police seized five of the 13 appointed village mediators and tried to retake the village. The Daily Telegraph reported that on early Sunday morning, a thousand armed riot police moved to enter Wukan.

The entire village ran to block the police, one villager told the Daily Telegraph reporter. After a two-hour standoff, the police retreated and set up a blockade around the village.