Lao villagers displaced by construction near Vientiane of the $5.9 billion high-speed rail line linking China with Laos are still waiting for promised compensation though most stations on the line are almost fully built, Lao sources say.
The 420-km (260-mile) railway connecting Luang Nam Tha province on the Lao-Chinese border to the capital Vientiane, part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative of infrastructure lending and construction to support trade with China, is now almost 94 percent complete
Many of the stations, including one being built at Vientiane prefecture’s Xaythani district, are now 70 percent complete, but villagers are still waiting to be paid for lost land and other resources, one villager told RFA on June 11.
“They haven’t given us anything yet, and we don’t know when this will happen,” the villager said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “This is all very difficult for us.”
“If they say we will get it, then we’ll get it. But if they say we won’t get anything, then we won’t. We are still waiting,” he added.
Responsible departments should now speed up the compensation process, with payments coming in no later than the end of the year, RFA’s source said.
“I lost my land when construction began in 2009, so it would have been fair for me to have received my compensation by now,” he said.
But another Xaythani district villager said that some local residents displaced by the railway work have now been paid the money they were promised for lost land, and are happy with the amount of compensation they received.
“We got our compensation already. No problem! We are satisfied with the amounts that we were paid, and got almost everything we asked for,” the villager said
Also speaking to RFA, a village official living close to a rail station in the southern part of Vientiane municipality said that almost all residents of his village have also been paid for lost land, with just 10 percent of families still waiting for something to come in.
“Only a few families have not been given compensation yet, sometimes because authorities have not agreed to what they’re asking for their land,” he said, adding, “But 90 percent have now received almost everything they asked for, with the rail project making payments directly to the villagers.”
‘Enough to live on’
In Vientiane’s Hatxaiphong district, another villager said he was satisfied with the payments he was given, adding that he now has enough money left over to buy land at some future time.
“The land that the rail project encroached on is opposite a two-way street. The project has already calculated the value of that land, and what they gave us is enough for us to live on,” he said.
Addressing the concerns of those still waiting to be paid, Sonexay Siphandone—Lao deputy prime minister and minister of plans and investment—went to Xaythani on June 10 to observe progress on the rail work there.
The Xaythani station connects to Laos’ Highway 1 and covers 15,000 square meters of land divided into different zones designed to serve rail passengers in the future, the official Vientiane Times newspaper reported on June 11.
Speaking to RFA on June 11, a local official speaking on condition of anonymity said that work on the still-unfinished stations has now been stepped up to meet a deadline for construction.
However, he declined to discuss compensation issues, saying information on payments would be provided in a coming report issued by the company doing the work.
Company officials reached for comment refused to discuss the matter, saying they were not authorized to speak.
Work on the Lao-China railway link began in December 2016, and the project is being touted as a boon for the landlocked nation of nearly 7 million people because it is expected to lower the cost of exports and consumer goods while boosting socioeconomic development.
The railway includes 10 passenger stations and 22 stations for handling freight.
Four of these are located in Vientiane province, with the rest in Luang Prabang, Oudonxay, and Luang Nam Tha, where some of those who were moved from their land to make way for the work still wait for compensation to be paid.
Reported by RFA Lao Service, Translated by Sidney Khotpanya, Written in English by Richard Finney.