Lao Authorities Allow Chinese Firm to Plant on Land Promised to Dam Collapse Survivors
Bananas grow on a plantation in southern Laos in a file photo.
A Chinese-backed firm is growing bananas on land promised by the government of Laos as compensation to survivors of a 2018 dam collapse that that has been described as the country’s worst flooding in decades, RFA’s Lao Service has learned.
The disaster occurred last July, when a saddle dam at the Xe Pian Xe Namnoy (PNPC) hydropower project collapsed following heavy rains, inundating 12 villages and killing at least 40 people in Laos’ southern Champassak and Attapeu provinces, and leaving many more missing.
The 2,000 hectare plot of compensatory land near Pindong village, Sanamxay district, Attapeu province was cleared by authorities three months ago on the understanding that the victims of the disaster would be able to grow crops there during this year’s rainy season, but the authorities recently allowed a Chinese investor to plant bananas there.
In an interview with RFA’s Lao Service Tuesday, Attapeu province Governor Leth Xayaphone said the Chinese firm is using the land to help the survivors.
“The provincial and central government cleared the land for the victims, but the victims don’t have the financial resources required to grow their crops because they have been suffering from great losses [because of the flood],” he said.
“The province doesn’t have the ability to provide them with financial assistance, but we gave the land to the victims, the land belongs to the victims, but the [Chinese] company is stepping in to help the victims with capital and the benefit will be shared,” he added.
The governor did not elaborate on how the company would share benefits or what form the benefits would take, but he insisted that the authorities did not give the land to the investor. He said they allowed the company to help the villagers grow bananas and to create jobs for survivors of the flood.
When asked about the concern by many of the survivors about the use of harmful chemicals, a common problem that has made banana plantations unpopular in Laos, Xayaphone said that the province would increase inspections and monitor chemical use on the new banana plantation.
“We’ve learned our lesson by [observing] the impact of Chinese banana plantations on [the environment] in the northern provinces. We’ve signed a memorandum and the company has agreed to abide by strict rules and regulations on chemical use,” he said.
Banana ban ignored
The revelation that bananas are being grown on land set aside for flood victims came just two weeks after the Lao government vowed to enforce a ban on the granting of land for new banana plantations and punish local officials who violate it, amid a controversy over the illegal overuse of pesticides that residents say are causing pollution and destroying their livelihoods.
Concerns over chemical run-off from heavily polluting Chinese-owned banana plantations led in January 2017 to government orders forbidding new banana concessions, though many farms still operate under contracts valid for several more years.
But local officials have granted a number of firms land for new banana plantations in recent months, despite the government ban, in provinces that include Xayabury, Oudomxay, Borikhamxay, and Savannakhet, while other companies are negotiating for new farms elsewhere in the country, such as Vientiane province, sources told RFA.
Survivors of the Xe Pian Xe Namnoy disaster are concerned that the land they were promised is going to a Chinese developer without their having any say in the matter.
“At first, the authorities cleared the land for us, the victims here living in these two villages,” said a resident of Pindong village, a survivor of the dam disaster.
“But after having cleared it, they just gave it to the Chinese, who have already hired some of us to plant bananas for them,” he added.
Another survivor said, “The villagers are all opposed to the Chinese plantation. We fit into two groups. The first are the [original residents] of this village who are concerned about the use of chemicals and how it will affect their health. The second group is the 150 families that are victims of the dam collapse who now live here in the village, and we wonder if the authorities gave that land to the Chinese, do we have land to farm [for ourselves?]”
Meanwhile a resident of Attapeu province told RFA that a Chinese investor in league with a Vietnamese company are working to expand a 3,000 hectare banana plantation in Samakkhixay district to 10,000 hectares.
To do so they will need to cut down rubber trees planted years ago by the Vietnamese firm in the 7,000 hectare plot adjacent to the banana plantation.
With rubber prices lower than expected, they hope that switching to bananas will help to cover their losses. Currently about 100 Laotians work on the Chinese plantation.
Reported and translated by RFA’s Lao Service. Written in English by Eugene Whong.
Laos Silent About Villager's Jail Death as Exile Rights Groups Demand Answers
A map showing the location of Salavan province in Laos.
Exile Lao human rights groups on Friday pressed the Vientiane government to investigate the death in custody last month of Lao villager who had been detained since 2011 over a land protest in the country’s Salavan province.
The government has been silent so far on the death in jail of Sy Phong, one of two men kept in jail after 23 other protesters detained in 2011 had been released.
RFA’s Lao Service reported earlier this week that Sy Phong’s death in custody was revealed when prison officials called family members to pick up his body for religious observances and cremation.
Sy Phong and another accused leader, Som Nuk, had protested outside district offices with a group of 25 residents of Salavan’s Dane Nhai village to call for the return of land given by the government to a Vietnamese company to grow eucalyptus trees, a local source told RFA.
Police later came at night to arrest those who had taken part, falsely accusing them of using violence during the protest, he said.
“Most were freed after being held in jail for two or three months, but two of their leaders—Sy Phong and Som Nuk—were not released,” he said, adding, “Now, Sy Phong is dead, and villagers want to know why.”
“The Lao government should investigate the death fairly and clearly for the true cause of the death of Mr. Sy Phong in jail and give compensation to the victim’s family,” said Vanida Thephsouvanh, chairwoman of the Paris-based Lao Movement for Human Rights.
She said a statement that the Sy Phong’s case showed that “Lao officials still continue to harass local villagers who are against confiscations” of land.
Germany-based Bounthone Chanthalavong Weiser, head of the Alliance for Democracy, echoed the call for an investigation.
“I believe that these kind of arrests still happen in many provinces of Laos today which the central leaders cover up,” she said in a statement.
“My organization urges international organizations came to investigate these arrests and this death in Laos,” added Weiser
Earlier this week, a local official confirmed to RFA the eight-year-old arrests and jailing of the accused protest leaders, but said the two men had not been jailed for the protest over land, but because they had joined with “overseas Lao” in a plot to overthrow the government.
However, a Dane Nhai villager told RFA that the men “were not acting against the government” and had protested only because they did not want their land taken away to be used as a concession.
Reached for comment, Vixiene Navikoul, deputy governor of Salavan Province, told RFA on Monday that he would contact local officials to learn what had happened. But he did not answer RFA’s phone calls on Thursday and Friday.
Asked by RFA about the case, Salavan Province Governor Sisouvanh Vongchomsy said on Thursday: “No, no, I didn’t hear about this. They, the authorities, did not report about this to me.”
RFA’s Lao Service also learned on Friday that Sy Phon’s body was sent to his hometown in for burial because his relatives in Dane Nhai were afraid to conduct a funeral there.
The seizure of land for development or agricultural use—often without due process or fair compensation for displaced residents—has been a major cause of protest in Laos and other authoritarian Asian countries, including Cambodia, Myanmar and Vietnam.
In July 2017, 15 residents of Yeub village in the Sekong province of Laos were taken into custody for obstructing workers and cutting down trees on their former land, which had been given by the government to a Vietnamese rubber company.
Several of those detained were beaten or subjected to electric shocks in the days following their arrest, with another later reported to have died in custody.
Reported and translated by Ounkeo Souksavanh, Sidney Khotpanya and Max Avary for RFA’s Lao Service. Written in English by Paul Eckert.
ດຣ. ບຸນທອນ ຈັນທະລາວົງ-ວີເຊີ ປະທານ ພັນທະມິດ ເພື່ອປະຊາທິປະໄຕ ໃນລາວ ທີ່ ມີສູນກາງ ຢູ່ ປະເທດ ເຢັຽຣະມັນ.
ອົງການພັນທະມິຕ ເພື່ອ ປະຊາທິປະຕັຍ ໃນລາວ ອອກຖແລງການ ສະແດງຄວາມເສັຽໃຈ ຕໍ່ເຫດການການ ທີ່ເກີດຂຶ້ນ ກັບຊາວບ້ານ ດ່ານໃຫຍ່ ແຂວງສາລະວັນ ຊຶ່ງເປັນການຈັບກຸມ ທີ່ບໍ່ເປັນທັມ ຊາວບ້ານ ບໍ່ມີຄວາມຜິດຫຍັງ ເຂົາມີສິດ ທີ່ຈະປົກປ້ອງ ດິນໄຮ່ດິນນາ ຂອງ ພວກຂະເຈົ້າ ຈາກນັກລົງທຶນ ຕ່າງຊາດ. ອົງການພັນທະມິດ ຢາກທັກທວງໃຫ້ ທາງການລາວ ຄື:
1- ປ່ອຍຕົວ ທ້າວ ສົມນຶກ ທີ່ຍັງຖືກກັກຂັງ ທໍຣະມານໃນຄຸກ ໃຫ້ມີອິສຣະພາບ ຢ່າງຮີບດ່ວນ ປາສຈາກເງື່ອນໄຂ ແລະ ປະຊາຊົນ ທີ່ ບ້ານຢຶບ ເມືອງເຊກອງ ທີ່ຍັງຖືກກັກຂັງ ເທົ່າເຖິງທຸກມື້ນີ້
2- ທັກທວງ ໃຫ້ຜູ້ນຳພັກຣັດ ທົດແທນຄ່າເສັຽຫາຍ ໃຫ້ແກ່ຄອບຄົວ ທ້າວສີພອງ ແລະ ຄອບຄົວຄົນອື່ນໆ ທີ່ຖືກກັກຂັງຢ່າງເຫມາະສົມ ແລະ ເປັນທັມ. ດັ່ງ ດຣ ບຸນທອນ ຈັນທະລາວົງ ວີເຊີ ປະທານ ອົງການດັ່ງກ່າວ ເວົ້າວ່າ:
“ຂ້າພະເຈົ້າຕີຣາຄາວ່າ ການຈັບກຸມຊາວບ້ານດ່ານໃຫຍ່ ເມືອງສາລະວັນ ແຂວງສາລະວັນ ເປັນເຫດການ ທີ່ໂຫດຫ້ຽມທີ່ສຸດ ຊື່ງເປັນການ ກ່າວຫາໃສ່ຊາວບ້ານ ຈັບຂະເຈົ້າແລ້ວໄດ້ຖີ້ມໂທດໃສ່ຂະເຈົ້າ ແບບໂທດການເມືອງ ຂ້່າພະເຂົ້າຄິດວ່າ ຊາວບ້ານດ່ານໃຫຍ່ມີສິດ ທີ່ຈະ ລຸກຂຶ້ນມາ ປົກປ້ອງ ດິນດອນຕອນຫຍ້າ ຂອງພວກຂະເຈົ້າ.”
ອົງການພັນທະມິຕ ເພື່ອ ປະຊາທິປະຕັຍ ທີ່ມີສູນກາງຢູ່ ປະເທດເຢັຽຣະມັນ ຍັງຮຽກຮ້ອງ ໃຫ້ອົງການຈັດຕັ້ງ ສາກົນ ເປັນຕົ້ນ:
1- ຮຽກຮ້ອງມາຍັງ ກັມມະການສູງສຸດ ສະຫະປະຊາຊາດ ດ້ານສິດທິມະນຸດ ແລະ ຄນະກັມມະການ ດ້ານສິດທິມະນຸດ ຂອງສະຫາພາບ ຢູໂຣບ ທີ່ເຄີຍໄປໄກ່ເກັ່ຽ ບັນຫາດ້ານສິດທິມະນຸດ ໃນລາວ ກັບຣັຖບານລາວ ຜ່ານມາ ໃຫ້ຈັດຕັ້ງຄນະກັມມະການພິເສດ ເຂົ້າໄປສືບສວນ ການຈັບປະຊາຊົນຊາວ ບ້ານດ່ານໃຫຍ່ ແຂວງສາລະວັນ ເພື່ອໃຫ້ໄດ້ຂໍ້ມູນຫຼັກຖານ ຄວາມຈິງ ໃນເຫດການນີ້.
2- ຮຽກຮ້ອງມາຍັງຣັຖບານປະເທດຕ່າງໆ ທີ່ເປັນປະຊາທິປະຕັຍ ທີ່ໃຫ້ການຊ່ອຍເຫຼືືອເງິນ ແກ່ ສປປລາວ ໃຫ້ເອົາການຊ່ອຍເຫຼືອນັ້ນ ເປັນເງື່ອນໄຂ ພັກດັນທາງການ ສປປລາວ ໃຫ້ແຮງຂຶ້ນ ເພື່ອໃຫ້ທາງການລາວ ປະຕິບັດຫຼັກການ ສິດທິມະນຸດ ຕາມສົນທິສັນຍາ ຂອງ ສະຫະປະຊາຊາດ ທີ່ທາງການລາວ ໄດ້ເຊັນໄປນັ້ນ ໃຫ້ປະຕິບັດຜົລເປັນຈິງ.