A Chinese development project in Laos has been suspended indefinitely after pushback from local villagers and merchants.
In midJanuary, developers had begun initial surveys in Phoudindeng, Huai Sangoa and Pakpo villages, located near scenic Vang Vieng, about four hours north of Vientiane.
Those are just three of 22 villages that would be affected by the project, managed by the Chinese firm LaoVang Vieng New Area Development Company.
The company tried to survey the villagers' homes and land, but the villagers objected, and there were verbal confrontations, one village leader said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
The confrontation ended only when district authorities came by to calm things down, he added.
Most of the villagers here don't want the Chinese company to survey their land, because they are afraid that their homes and property will be taken from them. If this happens, where will they go to live? said the leader.
A tourism official from Vang Vieng, meanwhile said the company was merely exploring the possibilities for what can be done.
Many villagers were reportedly uncooperative with the surveyors, and even after local authorities came to explain the situation they still resisted.
In response, the government has ordered that the surveys be put on hold indefinitely until an agreement can be reached.
The surveys have been stopped. This means there won't be new surveys at all, maybe until the government comes up with new orders, said a local villager requesting anonymity in an interview with RFA's Lao Service.
I think they ordered them to stop because the complaints are coming from all sectors of society in Vang Vieng, the villager said.
He said the dispute wasn't merely an issue of rich developers against poor villagers. Rich land owners in the popular tourist district and merchants were also opposed to a Chinese developer coming in to make sweeping changes to the area, he said.
An official of the natural and environmental protection agency in Vang Vieng indicated that the government might have had additional reasons to stop the project.
The survey stoppage order comes from a very high level. The governor has ordered the stop because there are problems that he doesn't know the causes for. In addition to the villagers' complaints, the government might have another reason to issue this order, said the official. He did not elaborate.
Signed by the LaoVang Vieng Company last year in a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Laos, the project was slated to run in three phases over 15 years at a cost of U.S. $5.5 billion, and was expected to create 50,000 jobs, according to Lao media sources.
Vientiane province has also granted another Chinese company permission to survey the area of a former airport in Vang Vieng for construction of an entertainment complex, including a shopping mall, hotels, and other structures on 15 hectares of land at a cost of U.S. $200 million, sources say.
Environmentalists are concerned that these projects could potentially destroy natural beauty of the area and which is the main attraction for tourists visiting Vang Vieng. Others are concerned it would disrupt the livelihoods of villagers.
As one of the least developed Southeast Asian nations, Laos has become a target for massive foreign investment, especially from companies from neighbors China, Thailand, and Vietnam, which receive attractive investment incentives from the Lao government.
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