2007-0423 - BKK Post - New Thai-Lao bridge throws up old problems http://www.bangkokpost.com/230407_News/ ... news03.php ECONOMY / LAND EXPROPRIATION New Thai-Lao bridge throws up old problems NAOWARAT SUKSAMRAN The planned building of a third Thai-Lao bridge over the Mekong river is likely to expand trade opportunities, but as with other similar developments before it, will also cost some villagers their land. The bridge, funded by the Thai and Chinese governments, will link Chiang Rai's Chiang Khong district to Huay Sai city of Bo Kaew province in Laos, and will serve as another gateway to southern China, along with the existing Nong Khai-Vientiane and Mukdahan-Savannakhet bridges. However, 72 Lao families in Ban Don village in Huay Sai city have been forced to sacrifice their ancestral land for the sake of the bridge. Thousands of rai have been expropriated. A man who gave his name as Saeng said villagers had refused to sign documents to accept compensation for the expropriation. "I own about 13 rai. They gave me only 60 million kip (130,000 baht) for the land, which is not enough for me to buy land elsewhere. Land prices in other areas are now increasing," he said. Mr Saeng said villagers did not intend to obstruct development. "We only want the [Lao] government to consider giving us enough compensation to sustain our livelihood," he said. Another elderly villager, Sen, 66, has relatives who work on the Thai side of the border. They are benefiting from the bridge project as prices for land on the Thai side are now surging, he said. They asked him to move there and find a job, but Mr Sen said he was still concerned for his family on the Lao side of the border, who might eventually lose their land. He appealed to the Lao government to distribute land to affected villagers or find new careers for them. Prae Chuwit and Naowarat Pattanakarn, two Thai construction firms, have been contracted to build 100-kilometre-long roads on either side. One will link the bridge with Chiang Khong on the Thai side. The other will connect it to Huay Sai. The roads are expected to be completed in November. Then, the foundation stone for the bridge will be laid and construction of the crossing is scheduled to begin early next year. A Thai-Korean joint venture company was developing areas covering over 1,000 rai in Huay Sai city to build a five-star hotel and a golf course, a source said. In March, a delegation of Chinese trade representatives, officials from Yunnan province, and Thai officials inspected areas earmarked for construction. "Thailand and China discussed plans for the transport system, investment and tourism promotion with a one-stop customs service," a Thai official said. The bridge on the Lao side will connect to a planned 500km road, known as R3A, which will lead to Chiang Rung in southern China. China also plans to build a 30,000-rai industrial estate in Tung Sam Mon in Chiang Khong district. The estate will function as a centre for processed agricultural products and making export goods. Thao Kaenchan, a member of the Lao chamber of commerce and a businessman in Huay Sai, said Chinese people are already migrating in large numbers. "They form large communities, doing business, selling goods. They also rent large areas of land for planting rubber," he said. A career development centre would also be opened to help local people affected by land expropriation.