Elderly Lao Man Held in Land Dispute Released on Bail

thitphay-thammavong In this file photo taken in October 2019, an elderly Lao landowner, Thitphay Thammavong, is handcuffed in Bolikhamsai province's Pakkading district.
Courtesy of citizen journalist

A 69-year-old Lao man who was detained two months ago for refusing to give up land that had been in his family since 1965, was released on bail this week, RFA’s Lao Service has learned.

Thitphay Thammavong was arrested on September 16 after declining to sign papers that would cede control of his 1.5 hectare plot of land near Viengkham village in Bolikhamsai province’s Pakkading district, so authorities could build a health center on it.

“His family got him out on bail for 7 million kip [nearly U.S. $800],” a villager familiar with the case told RFA on Tuesday.

“He will now fight the case [in court,]” the villager said. Authorities have not made it clear what charges Thitphay faces.

The villager said Thitphay’s family submitted a complaint on October 15 to Laos’ National Assembly, in an attempt to settle the land dispute.

“[They] will try their best to fight under the procedures of the National Assembly, so it will depend on the assembly’s decision,” said the villager.

RFA reported earlier that Thitphay’s parents acquired the plot of land in 1965, and he inherited it in 1985. A village official confirmed both the acquisition and inheritance occurred long before Laos had a formal land titling system in place, but Thitphay obtained the title in 2012.

The assembly is in the process of verifying Thitphay’s claim.

“Now we are studying the complaint we received on October 17,” said an official of the National Assembly’s Justice Commission.

“We must fact-check it carefully,” the official said.

The petition to the assembly is not the first time that Thitphay has sought help from the government in resolving his land dispute.

He also tried to get the provincial People’s Council to make a decision on the issue in 2017, but he found the council’s ruling to be unfair, according to the villager.

An official of provincial People’s Council confirmed to RFA that they attempted to resolve the conflict but that Thitphay did not accept their decision.

Laos often comes under criticism for land grabs in which authorities seize land from people for development projects without paying them fair compensation for lost crops, property, and livelihoods.

Rights groups say the illegal appropriations violate basic human rights and such land grabs are a major cause of social tensions in Laos and neighboring countries in Southeast Asia.

Reported and translated by Ounkeo Souksavanh for RFA’s Lao Service. Written in English by Eugene Whong.


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