Hundreds of Families Forced to Move for Lao Coal Plant Expansion

Villagers demand more in compensation, worry about life in a relocation village.

Hundreds of Families Forced to Move for Lao Coal Plant Expansion

Authorities in northwestern Laos are forcing hundreds of families to relocate to make way for the expansion of a lignite power plant, setting the stage for a dispute over compensation with residents who say they will be shortchanged by the communist government’s ambitious development plans.

A chief source of social tension in Laos and other Southeast Asian countries is the widespread practice of land grabs in which authorities remove residents and seize land for development projects or foreign-invested enterprises without paying fair compensation for lost crops, property, and livelihoods.

The 1,878 MW Hongsa power plant, the first lignite plant in Laos, began Phase I of its operations in 2015. Phase II began the following year when construction was completed, and now the plant is planning Phase III, an expansion.

Hongsa’s construction in the northwestern province of Xayaburi resulted in thousands of villagers losing land with little compensation. The expansion will displace hundreds more residents.

“The plant recently gained a new concession of an addition of 2,700 hectares of land for our Phase III expansion. The land will cover the entire village of Kiw Ngiew and a part of Pang Bong Village in Ngeun District, Xayaburi Province,” a member of Hongsa’s management team told RFA’s Lao Service June 4.

Kiw Ngiew is home to 115 families, while 18 more households live in Pang Bong, according to the source.

A provincial official confirmed the figures to RFA, adding that the province was helping to assess the families’ losses.

“The plant and authorities have agreed to pay 1,200 kip [U.S. $0.12] per square meter of farmland and 2,000 kip [$ 0.20] per square meter for constructed facilities,” the official said.

The residents claim the compensation is only a fraction of the true market value of their homes and farmland.

“It’s only 50 percent of what our property is worth. We need higher compensation because after we move to the resettlement village, we don’t want to be poor,” a Kiw Ngiew resident told RFA.

“We want to be able to live our life the same way we do now,” the resident said.

Another Kiw Ngiew resident told RFA that the villagers were given no choice but to move.

“Most of us want to stay because the compensation is too low and the new homes will be far below the value of our current homes,” the second Kiw Ngiew resident said.

A third villager told RFA that many were worried about what life would be like in the resettlement village.

“We’re still staying in our homes in our village and farming our own land for now because nothing has happened yet, but when we move to the resettlement village, where are we going to farm?” the third resident said.

“What kind of land are we going to get, if any at all? We know that the new land will be on top of a mountain with no access to water,” the third resident said.

In several other relocation cases, the central or provincial governments nominally cleared land for those who had to move, but often the land was situated in areas that would make agriculture either impossible or extremely difficult.

RFA reported that one group of relocated survivors of a dam collapse were so unhappy with the plots of land they were given after the disaster that they returned to the ruins of their old village to farm what was left of their land after the waters receded.

A resident of Pang Bong, the other village affected by Hongsa’s expansion, echoed the same concern to RFA.

“The new land will not be good, and nothing will grow on it. We will lose all our farms and gardens that are currently sitting on flat land near a small river,” the Pang Bong resident said.

“When that power plant expands, it will displace all the residents of our two villages. We’re losing our farms, cattle, livestock, our forest and our water source. All of these resources are going to be taken away by this project,” the Pang Bong resident added.

Another resident of Pang Bong told RFA about everything the residents would lose in the relocation away from the river.

“People in our village can drink, bathe, fish, grow vegetables and raise cattle, livestock and poultry.”

The Lao language version of the Vientiane Times reported on June 2 that construction on the resettlement village began March 1 and is expected to be complete by November.

Beyond the human toll, Hongsa’s expansion will be detrimental to the area’s biodiversity, an environmental official told RFA.

“The expansion will cut down large parts of the forest, causing wildlife to disappear,” the official said.

Health experts say that Hongsa is dangerous to those living near it, increasing risk of cancer, respiratory problems, and birth defects due to exposure to pollution.

The Hongsa powerplant, like many of Laos’ hydroelectric dams, generates power that Laos sells to neighboring countries, in line with the country’s aim to become the “Battery of Southeast Asia.

Though the Lao government is betting on power generation to transform the country’s economy, the projects are controversial because of their environmental impact on fisheries and agriculture, and the displacement of villagers.

Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Max Avary. Written in English by Eugene Whong.

Source : Radio Free Asia More   

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China Passes Law Countering Foreign Sanctions Over Rights Abuses

The ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) sends  a 'strong message' to the international community ahead of the G7 summit.

China Passes Law Countering Foreign Sanctions Over Rights Abuses

China has passed a tit-for-tat law allowing targeted sanctions against foreign individuals and organizations following a slew of sanctions targeting ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) officials over human rights abuses in Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong.

The country's rubber-stamp parliament, the National People's Congress (NPC), passed the law on Thursday, with state media reporting it as a move intended as a counter to recent sanctions from the U.S..

It comes after CCP general secretary Xi Jinping called last November for the government to use "legal means" to defend China's interests amid growing international criticism of its rights record and overseas propaganda and infiltration operations.

China's state broadcaster CCTV made the announcement ahead of the three-day G7 leadership summit, which opens in the U.K. on Friday.

Chinese political commentator Wu Qiang said the passing of China's Anti-Sanctions Law sends a strong message to the international community.

"China is trying to respond to the sanctions imposed on it by the international community," Wu said.

"Escalating the current standoff will exacerbate its isolation and the rift between China and the international community," he said. "It is not trying to find ways to communicate, [or move] towards mutual alignment."

He said further tensions could emerge around the U.S. insistence that the origins of the coronavirus that led to the COVID-19 pandemic be investigate, amid further unconfirmed reports of a possible leak from a top-security viral research laboratory in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, where the pandemic first emerged.

Coordinated sanctions over Uyghurs

Last week, the Biden administration banned U.S. investment in around 60 companies in China’s defense or surveillance technology sectors in a bid to limit the flow of money to firms that undermine U.S. security or “domestic values,” which allows listings for human rights abuses.

On March 22, the European Union, U.S., Canada, and the U.K. sanctioned Chinese officials and security entities as part of a multilateral approach to hold to account those responsible for Beijing’s policies of oppression against Uyghurs in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR).

China has already leveled retaliatory sanctions against Western officials and scholars in response to U.S. and European measures over rights abuses in the region.

Some sanctions target the Political and Security Committee of the Council of the European Union, the Subcommittee on Human Rights of the European Parliament, the Mercator Institute for China Studies in Germany, and the Alliance of Democracies Foundation in Denmark.

China's Foreign Ministry has also designated members of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, Canadian lawmaker Michael Chong and the House of Commons Foreign Affairs subcommittee on human rights for retaliatory visa and financial sanctions related to Xinjiang.

And on March 17, one day before a high-level bilateral meeting in Alaska, U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken announced sanctions against 24 Chinese officials for their efforts "to unilaterally undermine Hong Kong's electoral system" by enacting amendments to screen legislative candidates for their allegiance to Beijing.

Feng Chongyi, Chinese studies professor at the University of Technology Sydney in Australia, said China has adopted a tit-for-tat approach to respond to foreign sanctions, but often overestimates its own strength.

"They tend to greatly overestimate Xi Jinping's power and prestige, and China's strength," Feng said. "They believe they are really powerful, to the point of self-delusion."

"They impose sanctions on Australia and the European Union because they believe that the EU and Australia are heavily dependent on China," he said.

Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam, who has reportedly been forced to use cash after sanctions hit her credit card accounts, said on June 7 that her government supports the new law.

Reported by Qiao Long and Chingman for RFA's Mandarin and Cantonese Services. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

Source : Radio Free Asia More   

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