Lao Villagers Not Yet Paid For Land Lost to China-Backed High-Speed Rail Project

Villagers have waited for two years for compensation, with the rail line set to open in December.
2021.10.05
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Lao Villagers Not Yet Paid For Land Lost to China-Backed High-Speed Rail Project A section of the Lao-China high-speed railway crosses rice fields in a suburb of the Lao capital Vientiane in a photo taken in 2021.
RFA

Lao villagers who lost land for a high-speed railway connecting their country with China are still waiting for compensation to be paid, with operations on the China-backed line set to begin later this year, sources said.

Nearly 100 families living in Dong Phosy and Dong Phonhae villages in the Hatxayphong district of the capital Vientiane were promised two years ago they would be paid for their land, one affected villager told RFA on Oct. 1.

“They said they were going to pay, but they haven’t paid anything yet,” the villager said, speaking on condition of anonymity for security reasons. “The villagers are enduring hardships, and some can’t grow rice because of local floods,” she said.

A top district official told villagers they would be paid in September, but now it is October, and still no money has come in, the villager said, adding that the 105,000 kip (U.S.$10.59) per square meter promised to villagers for the land taken from them is below the land’s real value.

“The villagers need 207,000 kip [U.S.$20.88] per square meter, because the land taken for the railway line was so economically productive,” she said.

Also speaking to RFA, another villager said that he and other villagers were told by authorities they would be arrested if they came down too often to ask about when their payments might come in.

“Most of us have not yet received compensation for our land, but the project will be finished soon,” he said.

“And when we came to ask about our money, an official told us not to ask so often, and that we would be arrested if we persist,” he said.

“The villagers have waited for many years to be paid since work started on the rail line, and this year we were asked about five or six times to go to meetings to discuss this, but nothing was done,” said another villager also waiting to be paid.

“When we telephone the office, no one picks up the phone. And if they do pick up, they only tell us to talk to that official or this official,” he said.

Reached for comment, an official at one Hatxayphong district office who declined to give his name said, “At present, there are no orders from higher authorities to pay the villagers compensation, and we don’t know anything more than this.”

He was also unsure how many families were still waiting to be paid, he said.

Waiting for titles to their land

At the same time, villagers in Vientiane’s Naxaythong district have been denied compensation because they held no title to the land that developers took from them for the railway, a resident of the district said.

Villagers had applied two years ago for new titles to their land, but so far with no result, he said.

“When we went down to ask officials from another office in the district about our titles, we were told they weren’t finished yet, and that we should talk to the committee that was working on them,” he said.

Reached by RFA, an official in the relevant district office declined to comment.

Foreign-invested farming, mining, and development projects in Laos have sparked friction over cases of environmental pollution and land taken without proper compensation, and Lao villagers affected by land grabs often fear to speak out publicly because of concerns over official retaliation.

Work on the $5.9 billion Lao-China railway link began in December 2016, with the project expected to lower the cost of exports and consumer goods in Laos and boost socioeconomic development in the landlocked nation of nearly 7 million people.

The 260-mile railway connecting Luang Namtha province on the Lao-China border to the capital Vientiane is part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative of infrastructure lending and construction to support trade with China.

The rail line is now almost 94 percent complete, and is scheduled to open Dec. 2.

China is Laos’ largest foreign investor and aid provider, and its second-largest trade partner after Thailand.

Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Sidney Khotpanya. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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