For police in northern Laos, all that glitters is eventually sold

Residents say authorities are confiscating gold that villagers take from Chinese land concession
By RFA Lao
For police in northern Laos, all that glitters is eventually sold In this screenshot from a video posted Aug. 17, 2023, villagers in Laos’ Luang Prabang province are seen locked in a 16-square-meter (26-square-foot) room after a Chinese mining company detained them for illegally digging for gold on the company’s land concession.
Screenshot from Speak in the Language of News ver.8/Facebook

Police in northern Laos are fining villagers who ventured into parcels of land that have been granted to Chinese mining companies, and confiscating any gold the intruders found only to sell it themselves, residents in the country told Radio Free Asia.

The Pak Ou district police in Luang Prabang province said it was illegal for villagers to enter concession areas in the province, much less steal and sell gold to local dealers or middlemen.

But residents claim the confiscated gold is not returned to the concession holder. The police hold onto it for a while and then sell it themselves, said a resident, who like all unnamed sources in this report requested anonymity for safety reasons.

“Police set up a temporary checkpoint to bar villagers from entering the zone,” the resident said. “They also inspect villagers to see if they have gold that they collected from the zone. If any is found, they fine them 300,000 kip (about US$14) each and confiscate the gold to sell to middlemen themselves.”

Another resident said that the people might not know that there is a Chinese concession. They have been going out to dig for gold in the area as a source of income whenever they have trouble making ends meet.

“The gold that the police seized from the villagers is kept in the police station for a while, then it is appraised and sold to legal gold traders in town,” the second resident said. “The police know the traders well and they work together often.”

Police denial

Officials from the Pak Ou district police reject the notion that they are selling the gold they confiscate.

“Our police didn’t arrest nor fine villagers,” a police official said. “There are officials from the mine themselves who do that. The province only sent officials to inspect the situation and now they don’t do that anymore.”

An official from the Ministry of Energy and Mines said that the ministry did not know about the case, but believes that the police didn’t seize the villagers’ gold, though it is possible they took it as evidence when they arrested villagers for illegal entry concession areas.

In August of this year, authorities from the same gold mine arrested 50 villagers who entered the area to search for gold. They were all released after paying a fine each of 10–15 million kip ($480 - 720) to the mine owners.

Translated by Sidney Khotpanya. Edited by Eugene Whong.


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