Laos government allows Chinese firm to dig rare earth minerals, locals concerned

Phonsavan town in northeast Laos. | Photo: Wikipedia.

Villagers in northeastern Laos have voiced concerns over losing their land to a Chinese firm that was recently approved by the Southeast Asian government to dig for rare earth minerals. A government source says some displaced villagers will receive compensation.

Although the Lao Ministry of Plans and Development signed an agreement on January 21 allowing the Tong Lee Seung Industrial Development Company to excavate a 3 square kilometre area in the Phaxay district in Xieng Khouang province, and another 25 square kilometres of land may now be examined that is owned by residents for farming and grazing livestock.

One villager told Radio Free Asia on the condition of anonymity that no one knows what will happen to the locals’ land, although the Chinese are still performing a survey and haven’t started excavating. Another villager said the Chinese company has now encroached on 6 hectares of his grazing land.

Another villager claimed the project would cost some cropland for them, citing they don’t even know what minerals the Chinese will be digging and have no idea who to go to for compensation.

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According to a Lao official, corporate representatives are already negotiating compensation for villages that would lose important land as a result of the project, while the exact number of households affected is unknown.

“They are still in talks with the local villagers, and when the survey is finished in 12 months, they will sign a separate contract to do excavations.”

Meanwhile, a spokesperson from the Lao Ministry of Minerals and Mines said the ministry will soon draft a new decree to regulate the extraction of rare earth minerals in Laos in order to protect villagers from the negative effects of the projects, adding that it is still waiting for a government meeting to process it.

Rare earth minerals are used in the manufacture of high-tech items, including cell phones, computers, satellites, and aerospace technology. China controls a large portion of the international mineral trade, and Laos signed agreements with 19 businesses to conduct mining exploration for gold and silver last year.

SOURCE: Radio Free Asia

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