An elderly man in Laos was detained last month for refusing to give up land that had been in his family since 1965, family members said.
Thitphay Thammavong, 69, was arrested on September 16 after declining to sign papers that would cede control of his 1.5 hectare plot of land near Viengkham village in Bolikhamsai province’s Pakkading district, so authorities could build a health center on it.
“First he went to the district office [on September 2] to discuss a matter about his land. They pressed him to sign a document to give it up, but he refused,” a member of Thitphay Thammavong’s family told RFA Saturday.
“He was summoned again later [on September 16], but [the second time] he was detained,” said the family member.
“[We] are not opposed to the government’s development project, we just need justice and fair compensation for our land. It’s the only land the family has,” said the family member.
His son and wife were also summoned to the district office on Monday, according to the same family member, who claims the land belonged to Thitphay Thammavong’s parents since 1965 and he inherited it in 1985.
An official of the village’s administrative authority confirmed that the land belonged to the family.
“That land belonged to Grandpa Xay and Grandma Sai from long ago. They gave it to their son [Thitphay Thammavong] way before the land titling system was in place. He obtained the title in 2012,” said the official.
The official also said that Thitphay Thammavong had been paying property taxes since 2012, but had stopped in 2017 when he received notice from the district governor claiming that the land in that area, including his plot, was owned by the state.
Authorities have either declined to comment or sided against the family when asked for comment.
“We’ve discussed this case, but right now we don’t have anything to say. We’ve actually been informed by our superiors not to give any interviews about this matter to the media,” police lieutenant Vongphachanh Keovixiene in Pakkading district told RFA.
But an official of Pakkading district said Monday that the land has belonged to the state for several years.
“This lot of land belongs to the state, contrary to what the family claims,” said the district official.
“The state reserved this land for the economic development since 2001. Since then, nobody encroached on it until 2009.”
Laos often comes under criticism for land grabs in which authorities seize land from people for development projects without paying them fair compensation for lost crops, property, and livelihoods.
Rights groups say the illegal appropriations violate basic human rights and such land grabs are a major cause of social tensions in Laos and neighboring countries in Southeast Asia.
Reported and translated by RFA’s Lao Service. Written in English by Eugene Whong.