The construction of an elephant conservation and breeding center in Laos has been delayed due to an ongoing land dispute with villagers living on the proposed site.
Announced in September 2017 by the Chinese state-owned Sino-Lao Tourism Investment and Development Company, the elephant conservation center is planned for a 100-hectare plot of land near the city of Xayaburi in the country’s northwestern Xayaburi province.
According to a Xayaburi province official, the projected has been delayed by a multi-faceted dispute.
“There are many reasons. First, the compensation [to residents who would be displaced] is not 100% complete,” said the official on June 14 in an interview with RFA’s Lao Service.
“[Some of] the land needed for the project belongs to a group of villagers. It is their fruit farm, their rambutan farm. Their area is quite large and the company has to pay a lot in compensation,” the official said.
The land in question is situated in Nahai village near Xayaburi and belongs to three families. Combined, their holdings stretch for dozens of hectares. The families say they aren’t interested in accepting compensation from the Chinese-backed company and they have no desire to move out of their homes.
An official of the Planning and Investment Department of Xayaburi province confirmed the families’ wishes.
“Yes, a number of villagers still refuse to accept the offer. We’re now doing paperwork and looking for new land for them,” the department official said, adding that only minimal construction has started so far.
“The company is building only an access road to the planned location but not the facility yet,” the department official said.
“Eventually, the company will agree to pay compensation [in the amount the villagers want].”
The company promised earlier that it will solve the land dispute as soon as possible and will compensate fairly.
The three holdout families were not the only ones affected by the project; some other landowners agreed to give up their land to the company early last year.
The Sino-Lao Tourism Investment and Development Company has a total of 50 elephants and has been paying mahouts and elephant owners in the province to feed and take care of them at the monthly rate of $900 per elephant until the center is open.
A Xayaburi resident who attended the ceremony held to announce the project on September 11, 2017, indicated the elephant center still has to win over local people.
“This is all business. The Chinese company isn’t really doing this for the breeding or conservation of elephants. They just want to make money. It’s going to be an attraction for Chinese tourists,” the resident said.
Reported and translated by RFA’s Lao Service. Written in English by Eugene Whong.