Lao Villagers Barred From Asking Questions on Railway Project

Officials sent to boost the project refuse to answer on relocation, compensation plans.

Lao villagers attend meeting held to promote Lao-Chinese railway project, Oct. 27, 2016.

Lao villagers attending a meeting held to promote a controversial Lao-Chinese railway project were blocked from asking questions regarding compensation and where they will be moved when displaced from their land, sources in the Southeast Asian nation say.

The Oct. 27 meeting brought together more than a hundred residents of Nthom, Nongviengkham, Donenoun, and other villages in the Xaythany district of Laos’ capital Vientiane, and was convened by a district-level committee formed to boost the project, sources said.

Participants quickly came to feel that officials were ignoring their concerns, though, one woman who attended the meeting told RFA’s Lao Service.

“When the villagers wanted to ask questions, the authorities would not allow them to do so,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“So many of us became angry and left the meeting before it had really ended,” she said.

Among the concerns that villagers had hoped to raise were questions over how their homes and property would be affected by the planned construction, when they would be forced to move, and how they would be compensated, the source said.

“We know that we won’t get our money very soon, but we want to know the details of the plan,” she said.  “If the government wants us to move from our homes before the project kicks off, the authorities really should say something to us.”

“Instead, they would only say that the details are ‘in the books,’” she said.

Call for cooperation

Reached for comment, a Xaythany district official told RFA on Oct. 28 that the meeting had been held only to inform villagers of the government’s plans and to call for their cooperation.

“The committee’s duty was only to disseminate documents related to the project so that people can understand what is going to happen,” the official said.

“We were afraid that if we had let villagers ask questions at the meeting, we could not have given them any answers.”

“The details of the compensation plan are still with the [government’s] central compensation committee, who will explain the plan later,” he said.

Worries continue to mount, though, as villagers fear they will be forced to relocate before their concerns are addressed and they are properly prepared to move, another Xaythany district villager told RFA.

“We have many questions, but we don’t know who to ask,” he said.

“Is there any office in which we can raise our concerns?  The relevant departments should tell us how this project will affect our property.”

“All we can do now is wait and see.”

Insufficient funds

Speaking at a debate of the National Assembly on Oct. 26, Lao Minister of Public Works and Transport Bounchan Sinthavong said that not enough money may have been set aside yet to pay the owners of property used or demolished for the project.

“To ensure that the many people who will be affected by the railway will receive compensation, we have negotiated payments with the Laos-China Joint Venture Company,” Bounchan said, according to an Oct. 28 report in the Vientiane Times.

Construction on the 427 km (265 mile) project, which is 70 percent owned by China and 30 percent owned by Laos, is scheduled to begin in December and will be completed by 2021, the Times said.

Reported and translated by Lanxang for RFA’s Lao Service. Written in English by Richard Finney.