Authorities in Laos on Thursday granted a parcel of land to a group of villagers demanding compensation for an area they said the government grabbed to establish a rubber plantation seven years ago.
An official from the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry told RFA’s Lao Service that the government had allocated 100 hectares (247 acres) of farmland to the residents of Yeub, a village located in Sekong province’s Thateng district in southern Laos.
“We believe that helping Yeub village at present is the right thing to do. We have cleared the rice fields for them and provided them with a livestock program and a water pump,” the official said, on condition of anonymity.
But the official acknowledged that some of the residents remained unhappy with the settlement, even though the amount of land granted to the village was equal to the amount they had lost in the concession.
“Some villagers are not happy with the compensation because they want their original land back, which they say was more fertile,” he said.
Yeub villagers have been fighting for an alternative site and better compensation since the government granted their land—in what is believed to have been a 50-year concession—to Vietnamese company Cong Ty Cao Su Nghi Lao-Viet (LVF) in 2006 for rubber cultivation.
In June last year, authorities detained at least seven villagers for around two weeks after they approached local officials about the dispute.
Upon their release, authorities took into custody another man, a former soldier, who they said had organized the villagers to demand better compensation for their land and had helped them draft a petition sent to the central government, local sources said.
But authorities denied that the villagers had been held and said they had only questioned them about their grievances.
The Lao government set up a task force to investigate the long-running dispute in October, which villagers said was in response to online conversations sparked by international media reports of the detentions.
Also in June, Laos’s Ministry of Planning and Investment announced a four-year suspension on new land concessions for rubber plantations and new mining licenses due to concerns about land encroachment.
Rights groups welcomed the announcement of the moratorium, which followed calls from the National Assembly for a countrywide review of land concessions, but warned it was not the first time Laos had made plans to suspend land concessions.
Much of Laos’s economic growth has come from land concessions for natural resources—including timber, agricultural products, minerals, and energy—but some worry that it comes at a cost for those who lose their land.
Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.