Residents of 18 villages in two districts of Laos’ capital Vientiane have refused to accept state compensation for loss of land to a local toll expressway project, saying that the amount offered is much lower than market value.
Officials are offering the nearly 160 families from 12 villages in Xaysettha and six villages in Xaythany districts U.S. $9-12 per square meter for a total 242 hectares (600 acres), a resident of Xay village in Xaythany district told RFA’s Lao Service on Tuesday.
However, villagers are demanding at least U.S. $32 per square meter, said the villager who declined to be named out of fear of the authorities.
“We want the market value or the price on today’s market,” he said.
“I don’t accept [the current offer],” he said. “If I did, I would not be able to buy a new parcel of land. Now, we want at least U.S. $32 per square meter.”
A resident of Nakae village, who declined to give his name, echoed the sentiment.
“We want compensation at the market value,” he said.
An official at Vientiane’s Public Works and Transportation Department, who requested anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media, said the disagreement over land price is delaying the project.
“We’re negotiating with the villagers who are opposed to the offer,” he said. “The construction of the expressway will be delayed.”
An official who works at Laos’ Ministry of Public Works and Transport, and is also not authorized to talk to reporters, told RFA on Monday that completion of the expressway had been initially planned for February 2021, but the disagreement with the villagers has delayed construction.
He also said that the dispute will not end any time soon because the parties have yet to agree on the project’s impact on the environment and people.
“It’s still long way to go,” the officials said. “We haven’t had any agreement yet on the impact.”
Dedsongkharm Thammavong, director of Vientiane’s Public Works and Transport Department, told the Vientiane Capital People’s Council in February that some villagers had asked for more compensation, saying that the amount offered was less than the market value of their property, according to a report in the Vientiane Times.
Vientiane Express No. 1 Sole Company Ltd. signed a concession agreement with Laos’ Ministry of Planning and Investment in July 2016 to build the toll expressway from Vientiane’s suburbs into the city center.
The company is a consortium of the Lao firm Asia Investment, Development and Construction Sole Company Ltd. (AIDC) and China North Industries Corporation (Norinco).
Under the agreement, the consortium will build and own the expressway for 50 years, while its concession can be extended 20 additional years.
The consortium plans to spend U.S. $200 million to build the expressway, including compensation for villagers who had to give up their land.
The 15.2-kilometer (9.4-mile) expressway is designed to extend from Dongmakkhai village in Xaythany district, pass through Highway 405, and end at the Lao International Trade Exhibition and Convention Center near the That Luang Marsh Special Economic Zone in Vientiane.
Laos often comes under fire for land grabs in which authorities evict people from their homes and take their land for development projects without paying them fair compensation for lost crops, property, and livelihoods.
Rights groups say the illegal appropriations violate basic human rights, including the right to food, housing, and prevention of forced eviction.
Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Max Avary. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.