Five Lao men arrested for stealing cable from Lao-China railway

Police attribute string of thefts to former rail workers who have become addicted to drugs.
Five Lao men arrested for stealing cable from Lao-China railway The Lao-China high-speed railway passes through a village outside the capital Vientiane, Dec. 3, 2021.

Lao authorities this month arrested five men accused of stealing electric cable from the Lao-China high-speed railway, the latest in a string of thefts police say were committed by former workers on the rail line who have become addicted to drugs.

The five stole cables valued at $8,000, according to a police officer who spoke to RFA on Wednesday.  They were taken into custody on Jan. 15.

“A lot of electrical cables were stolen, and those who took them were relatively young men,” the officer said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter.

The $6 billion railway, which opened in early December, is a centerpiece of China’s Belt and Road Initiative of state-led lending for infrastructure projects to tie countries across Asia to China. It offers land-locked Laos the promise of closer integration with the world’s second largest economy.

Speaking to local media on Wednesday, Lt. Col. Thatsaphong Savanmanychanh — deputy police chief of the Hatxayfong district of the capital Vientiane — said the accused men had stolen the cables from the district’s Dong Phosy railway station between Jan. 6 and 15.

“The men confessed to their crimes, saying they had come from the provinces to work as laborers building the station, but when the station was complete they didn’t go back home. Instead, they stayed at the worker camp near the station.”

The men had stolen cable on nine occasions. They then sold their haul to a store that purchased metal, Thatsaphong said.

“They then used the proceeds to buy meth pills, got high, and played a lot of video games,” Thatsaphong said.

The five men now being held were identified as Vang, 25, from Luang Prabang province; Mi, 38, from Xayaburi province; Malae, 29, from Houaphanh province; Sing, 28, from Houaphanh province; and Phoutthasak, 31, from Hatxayfong in Vientiane.

Residents of Vientiane told RFA that they wanted more security on the rail line and more effective government policies to address unemployment, poverty and crime in the one-party communist state.

“These drug addicts are everywhere in the capital,” one resident said, speaking like RFA’s other sources for this story on condition of anonymity. These people will get high, do nothing during the day and then go out to steal during the night, the source said.

“They are sometimes taken to a rehab center, but a short time later they just come back again.”

Another Vientiane resident called for the recently opened rail line connecting Laos with China to be patrolled around the clock.

“They shouldn’t let down their guard, it’s too dangerous, and something could happen there,” he said.

A third resident called for the government to do more to increase employment in the area.

“These thieves might be homeless and have no food to eat, and most of them are drug addicts,” he said. “If they had jobs, they wouldn’t steal things like that.”

Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Max Avary. Written in English by Richard Finney.


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