Bankok post: Those relocated to make way for the construction of the controversial dam are sneaking back home to fish and forage after being torn from the traditional lifestyles they have relied on for centuries and finding themselves unable to make a living in their new surroundings
Xayaburi damsite. Photo: International Rivers
It's early in the morning, but 20-year-old Boonma looks exhausted due to a lack of sleep over the past three or four nights. His mother Ta, 54, is worried about her son's health and is not sure he is doing the right thing.
But both agree he has no choice given the situation.
For the past several days, Boonma and seven other Houay Souy villagers have travelled back to their homes near the Xayaburi Dam building site on the Lao side of the Mekong River. Since the beginning of the year they have been relocated to a new village, Ban Na Tor Mai, 40km from their traditional homes.
They have made the trip on motorbikes along potholed, dirt roads and sneaking onto the construction site. Once inside they make a secretive trip under cover of night on a boat to a temporary hut located on the river to do what they have done for decades ; fish.
''It's probably not worth the sweat, but we don't know what else to do,'' said Ta.
Boonma and Ta's household was among 100 others relocated from their village of Houay Souy to make way for construction work, the first batch of 458 households along the river from Xayaburi to Luang Prabang in northern Laos to be moved.
They have been relocated despite the dam project not receiving the unanimous approval of the other Mekong River Commission (MRC) member countries, Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia.
Several villagers told Spectrum that they were hurriedly moved from Houay Souy in January against their will.
Ta said the villagers were only informed about the relocation a few days before it took place. Several of them cried upon hearing the news and begged for the project's partner _ Thai construction company Ch Karnchang _ to reconsider its decision.
The villagers survive by gardening on the river banks, panning for gold and fishing.
''They said we must leave as it's the time to leave,'' said Ta. ''They said we should take whatever we want to take with us or our belongings would be destroyed. Some of us burst into tears as we didn't want to leave Houay Souy because we don't know how to make a living elsewhere,'' said Ta, shedding tears.
Ta's household is among 40 that has begged developers to reconsider their relocation. They have tried to negotiate with developers to persuade them to let them stay in nearby Ta Lan village. However, the developers said villagers there would also be moved to make way for the dam's construction.
Ta said she and other villagers were told the dam was a state project. ''We have to move out so that they can produce electricity,'' said Ta with a twinge of bitterness.
The relocated Houay Souy villagers were offered a new concrete two storey house, a monthly stipend of 120,000 kip (480 baht) per person per household for three years and compensation for teak trees felled to make way for construction. No compensation was paid for the loss of their fishing gear or their land, the villagers said.
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