Laos 'halts new investment, land concessions'

The Lao government says it will not allow any new investments in mining or grant further land for rubber plantations until 2015, amid concerns about its environmental and social impact on local communities.

The Minister of Planning and Investment Somdy Duangdy has told state media the decision was made after receiving complaints about projects encroaching on villagers' land and causing environmental problems.

He says all existing projects will be reviewed and future projects will not be approved until the government has conducted thorough land surveys.

The announcement has been welcomed by land rights activists, but they warn that previous moratoriums have not been enforced.

"Several concessions have been documented to undermine national laws, as well as food security and well-being of communities," Land Issues Working Group coordinator Hanna Saarinen said in a statement.

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." The Vientiane Times says the government has approved nearly $US25 billion of investment since 1998, mainly in the mining, hydropower and agricultural sectors.

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

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