Six Lao villagers arrested in government land grab demonstration

Company allegedly bribed corrupt officials to acquire fake land title.
By Ounkeo Souksavanh and AS for RFA Lao
2024.01.25
Six Lao villagers arrested in government land grab demonstration Residents from Xang village hold a sign saying “Get Out” as they protest in northern Laos’ Xieng Khouang province on Jan. 23, 2024.
Citizen journalist

Six Lao residents were arrested on charges related to their roles in connection to a multi-day protest against a government seizure of their land, which protesters told Radio Free Asia was the latest example of government corruption.

Four of the arrested residents, all men, were part of a group of about 20 protesters from Xang village in northern Laos’ Xieng Khouang province, who gathered on Tuesday morning to rally against their land being given to a wood processing company, a protester who requested anonymity for security reasons, told RFA Lao.

They were arrested on the second day of the protest.

When two women, members of the village’s Women’s Union, went to visit the arrested men and bring them food, they too were arrested, he said.

Sketchy title

The land grab is illegal because the Phengxay Import-Export Company bribed corrupt officials to make a fake land title on their land, the protester said.

A resident of the village told RFA that the land had been a part of the village for generations and had become a historical and cultural site for the community.

In a video clip published on social media, one of the protesters explained the situation.

“Right now, nobody can help us. Earlier, we relied on the district authorities to help us, but they wouldn’t,” he said. “Therefore, we gathered together today to call on other authorities to enforce the law, respect our rights, and to help us, who have been taken advantage of by this company.”

ENG_LAO_LandProtest01252024.2.JPG
Residents from Xang village protest in northern Laos’ Xieng Khouang province on Jan. 23, 2024. (Citizen journalist)

These protesters explained that the Phengxay Import-Export Company leased about one hectare (2.47 acres) of land, then built a wood processing factory on it for use in a ten-year lease between 2008 and 2018. 

They extended the lease for five years from 2018 to 2023, meaning the lease has expired as of August 2023.

Later last year, the villagers wrote a letter to the Khoun District authorities asking for the land back. 

It was then that they learned that the company possessed a land title issued by the district authorities. 

Crowd dispersed

A witness to the arrest explained what he saw, saying, “The protest stopped after the police took away some protesters, which included members of the village authority,” he said. “I don’t know exactly how many and where they took those protesters to.”

A Xieng Khouang province official declined to discuss the protest or the arrests, only saying that the relevant officials were meeting to try to solve the conflict.

When RFA contacted a member of the Xieng Khouang Inspection Authority, that person said that the relevant officials were in a meeting discussing this matter at that time, and requested a call back in one day for more information. 

Translated by Max Avary. Edited by Eugene Whong.

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