The Lao government has set up a task force to investigate a long-running dispute with villagers affected by the development of a rubber plantation by a Vietnamese company in southern Laos’s remote Sekong province, according to an official.
An unknown number of villagers in Sekong’s Thateng district have been seeking financial compensation and alternative land from the government after they were asked to vacate their farmland for the rubber plantation project by Vietnamese company Cong Ty Cao Su Nghi Lao-Viet (LVF) company.
The government had moved aggressively in a bid to crush the campaign by the villagers, arresting at least seven of them behind the movement to seek compensation.
A government official in Vientiane told RFA’s Lao service Tuesday that a task force set up to probe the issue will travel to Thateng to look into the dispute.
“A task force has been set up by the central government. It will travel south to address the grievances of the people,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
One Thateng resident welcomed the move, saying the conflict could have a “good” resolution if the government is willing to compensate land owners fairly according to villagers’ demands.
He said the central government had been spurred to address the dispute following online conversations sparked by international media reports of the detention of seven villagers three months ago.
The Vietnamese company was believed to have been granted a 50-year land concession in 2006 to plant rubber in Sekong province.
In June, seven people from Thateng’s Yeub village who had approached local authorities with their grievances were detained for about two weeks and interrogated regarding those who were behind the activism in the village, according to local sources.
Upon their release, authorities took into custody another man, a former soldier, who they said had organized the villagers to demand better compensation for their land and had helped them draft a petition sent to the central government, local sources said.
Provincial Governor Khampheuay Bouttavong, however, denied any detentions had occurred.
Villagers say provincial authorities granted the Vietnamese company land without giving them adequate compensation.
Since all land in Laos is owned by the state, residents can be forced off their land with little or no compensation as they are pushed out to make room for development projects.
In June, Laos’s Ministry of Planning and Investment announced a four-year suspension on new land concessions for rubber plantations and new mining licenses due to concerns about land encroachment.
Rights groups welcomed the announcement of the moratorium, which followed calls from the National Assembly for a countrywide review of land concessions, but warned it was not the first time Laos had made plans to suspend land concessions.
Much of Laos’s economic growth has come from land concessions for natural resources—including timber, agricultural products, minerals, and energy—but some worry that it comes at a cost for those who lose their land.
Reported by RFA’s Lao service. Translated by Viengsay Luangkhot. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.