Land Resister Locked Up

Lao authorities jail a village woman who sought help for herself and others over compensation for their land.

Photo: RFA

Lao police have detained a woman for more than two months and refused to allow her family to see her after she opposed the taking of her land for a road expansion project near a major dam, sources say.

Sivanxay Phommarath’s husband said he had been trying to meet with her but was told by police personnel that their supervisors would not permit any visits.

“All I wanted was to visit her, but I was told that their supervisors won’t allow visits yet,” Sivanxay Phommarath’s husband, Soukphaouane Phommarath, told RFA’s Lao service on Wednesday.

“Today, I am going to the provincial court to find out what can be done to obtain her release or how the case can be resolved,” he said.

One government official said that the couple had land “issues” with authorities in Nhommalath district in central Laos’s Khammouane province.

Taken to prison

Sivanxay Phommarath
Sivanxay Phommarath

Sivanxay Phommarath was taken to a prison in Khammouane province in early October after she led other villagers to seek advice from “senior” people over what villagers said was inadequate compensation for their property, a source living in Seattle with contacts in Laos told RFA’s Lao service earlier this month.

Officials representing the Nhommalath district had met in August with Sivanxay and other villagers to present offers of compensation for land needed for the road expansion project near Nam Theun 2, Laos’s largest hydroelectric dam, according to a man named Soukit who identified himself as a “liaison” and coordinator for the meeting.

“There are about seven or eight families whose lands border roads eight and 12 who have already been compensated,” Soukit said.

Though Sivanxay parted with one parcel of her family’s land and received compensation, she refused to vacate a second parcel adjoining the proposed site of construction, sources said.

In late September, she led a group of villagers unhappy with the amounts offered in compensation for their land on a trip in chartered buses to the Thai-Lao Mekong Bridge in Savannakhet province to meet with "senior" people referred by relatives in the U.S. as possible sources of help.

Finding no one there to talk to, they returned to their homes in Nhommalath district, but were taken into custody the following day and questioned on the reasons for their trip and on who they had planned to meet, sources close to the family said.

All but Sivanxay were released after nine days, sources said, adding that family members fear she has now been singled out for punishment as a focal point of resistance to the road expansion project.

Reached for comment, a Khammouane police officer denied knowledge of the arrest, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“I don’t know about this, I don’t know,” he said.


Khampouvanh Xayalath, the Nhommalath district officer who had called villagers to the August meeting, said only that he understood that Sivanxay and her husband had “land issues” with district authorities.

“We sent people to measure the land. Compensation has been paid. Now they are saying this is not enough,” he said.

The Nam Theun 2 Dam, built on a tributary of the Mekong River, has been producing electricity for sale to Thailand and into the Laos grid since March 2010, following the resettlement of 6,300 people living in the assigned reservoir area on Laos’s Nakai Plateau.

At the beginning of 2012, Laos had 14 operational power dams, with 10 under construction and 56 proposed or in the planning stages, according to an online government report.

Among these is the controversial Xayaburi Dam, which would be the first on the Lower Mekong River’s main stream. Environmental groups have warned that the dam could have a major impact on the region’s environment and threaten Southeast Asia’s food security.

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


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