Lao police backed by bulldozers moved last week to evict more than 50 families from land claimed by a politically-connected businessman in the country’s Luang Prabang province, sources said.
The July 15 operation, which displaced residents including military veterans who had lived in the province’s Phonexay village since 2010, was ordered by authorities to make way for the construction of infrastructure in the area, a local official told RFA’s Lao Service.
The 55 families evicted from the land had been warned to leave for years, provincial Director General of National Resources and Environment Chanthavong Phonphichit told RFA.
“The governor appointed a committee that included officials from the Inspection and Police Departments and the military to address this problem, because that land belongs to private individuals,” Chanthavong said.
“The villagers have occupied that land unlawfully,” he added.
The Duangpaseuth Construction Company, the land’s registered owner, had acquired 7.4 acres of the property in March 2011, according to official records, though one displaced villager told RFA that the company may have gained title to the land by paying bribes.
Thieng Duangpaseth, the firm’s owner, owns extensive properties in Luang Prabang, some of them held in the names of members of his staff, another source told RFA on July 24.
“He enjoys a close relationship with former provincial governor [Khampheng Xaysompheng] and always wins the bidding for construction projects in the province,” the source, a local businessman said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“The company invests in advance, and expects to be paid later,” he said.
“If the province doesn’t have the money to pay them, it will give the company the land and other real estate instead of settling its debts.”
The area from which villagers had been evicted lies close to Luang Prabang’s Sokpaseuth market and bus station, which Thieng owns, the businessman added.
Reached for comment, Thieng declined to discuss how he had acquired the disputed land, saying only, “The relevant authorities are now dealing with this problem.”
Also speaking to RFA, one of the evicted villagers, a retired soldier, said that he and the other villagers driven from their homes have now asked for help from authorities “at higher levels” to address their concerns.
“Back in the days of fighting for national liberation, we served in that mission, and now in peaceful times we just want to lead our families, our wives and children, in earning a living.”
“The way we are being treated is unacceptable,” he said.
Reported and Translated by Ounkeo Souksavanh for RFA’s Lao Service. Written in English by Lillian Andemicael.