Lao Farmers Block Chinese Developer From Surveying Land for Airport Project

2014-04-11
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Lao farmers confront a King Romans employee while an armed police officer looks on in a screen grab from an RFA video, April 3, 2014.
Lao farmers confront a King Romans employee while an armed police officer looks on in a screen grab from an RFA video, April 3, 2014.
RFA

Updated at 07:30 A.M. EST on 2014-04-12

A Chinese developer is moving to seize additional land from farmers in northern Laos for the construction of an international airport as part of a casino complex, according to the farmers who have prevented the developer from carrying out any survey work in the area.

The rare standoff last week marks the second time in three months that the rice farmers from Thonepheung district in Bokeo province stood firm as policemen armed with AK-47 assault rifles moved to enforce an order by the King Romans (Dok Ngiew Kham) Group to develop the land.

King Romans originally wanted to take 236 hectares (583 acres) from 46 farmer families in six villages in return for compensation well below market value, but last week the developer announced plans to extend the area required for the project by an additional six hectares (15 acres).

Angered by the potential loss of additional rice fields, the farmers on April 3 prevented King Romans officials from measuring out the new parcel of land under the protection of armed guards, villagers told RFA’s Lao Service recently.

They said that farmers angrily shouted: “Don’t measure! Don’t measure! Stop! Stop!” as the officials attempted to set up their equipment to survey the land.

While the confrontation occurred, villagers said, officials took pictures of the farmers, but would not allow themselves to be photographed, prompting one woman to ask, “Why do the officials have the right to take our photos?”

After a prolonged standoff during which the villagers refused to retreat, the situation was resolved when police and developer officials pledged to forgo the additional land confiscation, though the villagers said they remain on edge.

Citizen video of the standoff was posted on several social media sites after the confrontation, garnering support from sympathetic netizens.

Villagers said that officials are now working to get them to accept compensation for the original parcel of land by the start of the Lao New Year on April 14 and have been “keeping a close eye” on the farmers.

The 46 families have refused compensation from King Romans of around 100,000 Thai baht (U.S. $3,100) per rai (less than half an acre) of land, according to officials, and farmers contend that the rice fields to be taken for the project are valued at more than three times that amount.

The rice fields covering 235.6 hectares are part of 1,000 hectares (2,471 acres) granted by Lao authorities to King Romans for the development of the airport, as well as golf courses and entertainment projects.

Inadequate compensation

Villagers told RFA that the compensation will not be enough for them to purchase the amount of farmland necessary to meet their needs, but that authorities have threatened those who do not accept the package with imprisonment.

“We need to get more compensation so that we can buy new plots of land, but the company and government officials do not accept our demands,” one villager told RFA, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“Reasonable compensation needs to be made because the value of land never decreases,” he said.

Another villager, who also asked not to be named, said that the government was breaking the law in supporting King Romans’ interests, which center on the casino-driven Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone (SEZ) project, almost exclusively catering to Chinese investors.

“Legally, rice field land must not be developed for other purposes, but the officials are flouting the law,” he said.

“It is not the people who are wrong, it is the officials.”

An official told RFA that the exact amount of compensation had not been settled yet.

“We have not paid compensation yet,” he said, adding, “We are measuring the area and collecting information and then we will compensate the villagers.”

Villagers have suggested that King Romans has pushed for district officials to move quickly on the airport land because Deputy Prime Minister Somsavat Lengsavad, who has backed the project, is expected to retire next year.

They accused the local authorities of being on the company’s payroll and rewarded according to the amount of land they can secure.

SEZ project

The one-party Lao communist government in 2007 conceded to King Romans 10,000 hectares (24,710 acres) of land—3,000 hectares (7,410 acres) of which are dedicated to the SEZ—for 99 years, with the objective of promoting trade, investment, and tourism.

The SEZ, which is tax exempt, began construction in the early 2000s and now includes an international border checkpoint and river port, the King Romans Casino, hotels, and a Chinatown market with as many as 70 restaurants and shops selling a variety of retail goods.

Plans for the international airport project—which will affect the villages of Phonehom, Donmoun, Phiengyam, Mokkachok, Khouan and Sibouheung—were not made public until early 2013, after the Lao government signed a memorandum of understanding with the company.

In January, the farmers defied orders to vacate their land, standing in front of bulldozers sent to flatten their rice fields and forcing armed police deployed by King Romans to retreat.

According to sources, King Romans had attempted to clear the land in 2012 but the villagers resisted, although the police were not called in at that time.

Reported by Ounkeo Souksavanh for RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Ounkeo Souksavanh. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

Comments (5)
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MekongCommons.org

from Bangkok

The gambling business actually brings problems more than benefits to the local people. Here

is also a recent article regarding the Lao's

Bokeo casino that excels the negative impacts of

gambling business in which endangering local

livelihoods, dispossessing farmers of land and

inviting armed crime into previously quiet rural

areas. Laos Vegas: Rolling the dice on rural

development http://www.mekongcommons.org/laos-

vegas-rolling-dice-rural-development/

Feb 03, 2015 01:54 PM

thinkkit

from Perris

I've read some of your comments. You believed the Chinese and the farmers are to blame. In facts, it's the Lao Government to be blamed for they are the educated and knowledgable should defend the public's interests and ask the Chinese to pay fairmarket value and relocation cost, as to remedy for uprooting the farmers from their homeland. Our Lao government or King is selling Lao people short to spike their own nose, chins and chics because they don't value themselves. The way the farmers are treated are a reflection of the Lao King and his cabinet. They're spoiling the land for their own greed.

Oct 09, 2014 01:23 AM

aijoesp

from vientiane

lao govt is now like ... , why they never think laos is losing land if they will give or sell it to chinese,has they ever observe that many shops, restaurants and other own my chinese, most of laos people not consume and many chinese people look down on lao people or lao labour... pls thnk about the future of lao fortune ... where they will live and survive if you just allow chinese come to laos and allow them to own the land, are you stupid??? no!


[This comment has been edited by RFA Editorial staff per our Terms of Use]

May 07, 2014 10:34 AM

Superman

from Krypton

The villagers are not stupid, just very naïve. They need/want money and selling their land was the only option to them. I blame the corrupted Lao government for all these problems. They are the ones that is making money from all of those rip-off transactions and bribes from the Chinese. Take down the one-party communist government and Laos will prosper.

Apr 16, 2014 10:01 PM

Anonymous Reader

from Luang Prabang

I strongly disagree with you. Selling their land is not the only option for them to make more money. If the villagers want more money, they should keep their farmland to make them richer. For example, a friend lives close to Luang Prabang. He has been living there for more than 4 decades. Just few years ago, he turned his farmland into moneymaking. After rice season end, he then started to grow different kinds of vegetables and that vegetables did make his life better off. Two year later, he bought a brand- new Hyundai (Lao call it 2-Theo) around 6,000 US dollars. That piece of farmland can keep your live for longer than just selling it for one-time profits

Apr 21, 2014 10:19 PM

Anonymous Reader

You the villagers are so stupid. You should not agree to sell your farmland to the Chinese in the first place. With the compensation, you received from the Chinese would never able for you to buy another piece of land for your own, because land prices are now skyrocketing. You villagers desire to live in hell. It is too late now for your villagers to block the Chinese from building their useless airport there. Your villagers know so well that Chinese do have a bad reputation and bad record on environmental disaster or pollution problems. If airport is to be building in that area, there will be a major problem for your health, especially your children.

Apr 12, 2014 11:20 AM

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