Lao Citizens Displaced by China-Linked Railroad Project Still Not Paid For Losses

Compensation was promised by June but has still not been paid, Lao sources say.

A stretch of railroad is shown under construction in Vientiane's Na Xaythong district in an undated photo.

Thousands of Lao families ordered from their land and homes to make way for a high-speed railway linking the country with China are still waiting for compensation promised by their government though construction has surged ahead, sources in the country say.

Plans now call for work on the railway to end in 2021, with Chinese companies promising completion by that date despite the challenges of boring tunnels in mountainous areas of the country’s north.

Landlocked Laos expects the railroad to lower the cost of exports and consumer goods while boosting socioeconomic development in the impoverished nation of nearly 7 million people.

Under Lao Decree 84 issued in April 2016, Lao citizens losing land to development projects must be compensated for lost property and income, with project owners guaranteeing that living conditions for those displaced will be at least as good as they were before the project began.

In Chaengsavang village in the Na Xaythong district of the capital Vientiane, meanwhile, construction crews have measured and staked out the railroad’s proposed route and begun to build, though no one has spoken yet to affected households about compensation, a local resident recently told RFA’s Lao Service

“There are at least 20 houses that will have to be demolished, and the families who live there will have to move to a new place,” the woman said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“Farmland has also been affected,” she said, adding that the village school was torn down early last year, forcing children to go to another school in a nearby village for their classes.

Though Lao officials were on hand to observe recent surveying for the rail line, “no one came to talk to us about compensation,” the woman said.

'We have received nothing so far'

Also speaking to RFA, another resident agreed that while construction through her village has now begun, no offers of compensation have yet been made.

“No official from any department has come to talk to us,” she said.

Meanwhile, 12 households in Oudomxay province’s Muang Xay city originally scheduled for compensation last month have now been told that payment will be delayed “indefinitely,” with villagers doubting whether they will be paid at all, another source said.

“We have received nothing so far, and we don’t know when they’re going to pay,” the source said, also speaking on condition his name not be used.

“People want to buy land and build houses. We have no place to live now,” he sai

Over a thousand families living in villages along the rail line running from northern Laos’s Luang Namtha province to the capital, Vientiane, have still not been paid compensation, though many have already been ordered from their homes, Lao sources say.

Speaking earlier this year to a meeting of Laos’s National Assembly, Minister of Transportation and Public Works Bounchanh Sinthavong said that compensation payments to families affected by the railroad would begin in June, with a total amount of 2,492 billion kips (U.S.$291 million) assigned to be paid.

But this promise has still not been kept.

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