Laos freezes land concessions

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HANOI, 27 June 2012: Laos will not allow any new investments in mining or grant further land concessions for rubber plantations until 2015 at the earliest due to concerns about land encroachment, state media said Tuesday.

The government will examine existing investment policies and assess ongoing projects, the Vientiane Times said, adding that authorities would also review the environmental and social impact of major development projects.

“We approved large plots of land without looking into the details, like what land belonged to the state and which belonged to local people,” the paper quoted Minister of Planning and Investment Somdy Duangdy as saying.

Inadequate land surveys ahead of major development projects have led to a rash of complaints over encroachment of villagers’ land, and also created a range of environmental problems, he said.

Laos Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong

“We will now inspect all approved investment projects,” he said.

In future, “before approving any more projects, we will ensure that a thorough survey and allocation of land is undertaken”, he said.

The move was welcomed by land rights activists, including the Land Issues Working Group (LIWG), a network of Lao civil society organisations, which hailed the halt on new concessions as “an important step”.

“However, this is not the first moratorium on concessions, and the previous ones have not been enforced,” LIWG coordinator Hanna Saarinen told AFP by email.

“Several concessions have been documented to undermine national laws, as well as food security and well-being of communities,” she added.

The government must “ensure that investments benefit the Lao society as a whole. Local people should be given the right to choose whether or not to have a land concession in their area.”

According to the Vientiane Times, since 1998 the government has approved nearly US$25 billion of investment — mostly foreign and concentrated in the mining, hydropower and agricultural sectors.

Projects related to tourism including hotels, casinos, resorts and tourist attractions have also been identified as possible areas where land was illegally given to foreign enterprises. A railway project funded and constructed by the Chinese was postponed indefinitely over demands that a strip of land 5 km wide along the length of the high-speed rail track would be made available to the Chinese for industrial or agricultural development.

The presence of foreign, particularly Chinese, investors in Laos, a landlocked communist country of about 6 million people, has raised increasing local concern despite bringing much needed foreign cash.

© 1994-2012 Agence France-Presse

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