Twenty-four Lao families in a village in Oudomxay province are still waiting for new homes as digging proceeds on land taken from them four years ago by a Chinese gold mine concession, sources in the province say.
The residents of Tong Village in the province’s Pakbeng district have now scattered, with a few still clinging to their old homes while they wait to be resettled, one villager told RFA’s Lao Service on Tuesday.
“Those who live closest to the gold mine will be evacuated to a new settlement, but they will be given only one hectare of land per family, which is not enough for their needs,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“And for compensation, we should be paid at least 500,000 Thai bhat [U.S. $16,528],” a currency sometimes also used in Laos, the villager said.
China’s Lao-Xinlong mining company, which operates the concession, is set to build two-story houses for the displaced families, the source said. Residents of two other villages, Phou Sang and Chom Xang, will meanwhile lose only 30 hectares of their land and will not be required to move.
No one in the affected villages dares to speak out against the Chinese mine or its operations’ impact on their livelihood and environment, a second Tong villager said, adding that the Lao government doesn’t seem to care about the damage being done.
“They dig up the ground and leave our stream water unfit for drinking or bathing,” the villager said, also speaking on condition his name not be used. “They dig looking for gold everywhere, and the productive land of our village is now almost gone.”
“Our officials tell us that the Chinese company came here to provide us with jobs, but that’s not true. They may have come here simply to destroy our land.”
Also speaking to RFA, a Pakbeng district official said that the Chinese mining company is still building houses for the residents displaced from Tong village, with completion of the work expected by the Lunar New Year or April at the latest.
“After the houses are built, they will be given running water and electricity, and the villagers will be able to resettle there,” he said. “The residents of the other villages won’t have houses built for them, but they will be helped with other projects such as a school, a new water system, and a health clinic.”
China’s Lao-Xinlong company has pledged 15 billion kip (U.S. $1,619,877) toward construction of the new homes for Tong village and the new infrastructure for the villages not required to move, but amounts to be paid by the company and Oudomxay province in compensation for land have not been yet been set, the official said.
Joint venture with Laos
An official from the province’s investment and planning office said that Lao-Xinlong, whose 12-year concession period launched in 2016, will both excavate gold and manufacture gold bracelets, necklaces, and rings in a joint venture with the Lao government, with a 51 percent share of the profits going to Laos, and a 49 percent share going to the Chinese firm.
Products will be sold mostly in China, with some sold in Laos, depending on market need, the official said.
Lao-Xinlong’s concession in Pakbeng now covers about 75 square kilometers, with one square kilometer equaling about 100 hectares of land, an official from the province’s mine and power office said, though Lao government sources in Vientiane have not yet confirmed how much land is actually being used.
Much of Laos’s recent economic growth has been generated through land concessions to China, Thailand, and Vietnam for natural resources, including timber, agricultural products, minerals, and energy. But the country’s concession policies have sparked friction over environmental pollution and land taken without proper compensation.
Land grabs and the appropriation of public property to turn over to foreign and domestic companies are common in Laos, and villagers affected by them often fear to speak out publicly because they fear retribution.
Laos, with ambitions to become “The Battery of Asia,” has meanwhile drawn billions of dollars in Chinese investment in hydropower dams and other big-ticket projects under Beijing’s $1.3 trillion Belt and Road Initiative to build infrastructure and support trade.
China is Laos’ largest foreign investor and aid provider, and its second-largest trade partner after Thailand.
Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Sidney Khotpanya. Written in English by Richard Finney.