South Korea followed the US and Australia in issuing a travel warning against trips to Laos’ central province of Xaisomboun, as well as traveling on Route 13 that stretches from Kasi to Phou Khoun, part of the road connection between Vientiane and Luang Prabang.
The warning followed a number of recent shootings that involved and killed Chinese nationals working in Laos and already prompted the Laos government to tighten security and border controls.
The latest incident occurred on March 23 when six Chinese were wounded in a bus shooting in Kasi. The bus, traveling from Kunming, the capital of China’s southwestern Yunnan province, to Vientiane, was shot at by unidentified gunmen. A total of 25 passengers and three drivers were on the bus, and the six injured Chinese men were sent to hospital.
On March 1, a Chinese national was killed and three wounded in an attack by unidentified militants on a Chinese-backed company in Laos’s northern Luang Prabang province, according to China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In January, two Chinese were killed and one wounded in a bomb attack on a bus in Xaisomboun province which is popular with adventure travelers and mountaineers, but also with Chinese investors in the mining and rubber industry.
Observers assume that the violence might have to do with guerilla-like activities by the Hmong minority in Laos or villagers in general who feel adversely affected by Chinese business activities and their environmental impact in the region, as well as potential land grabbing.
Large-scale land leases in Laos are driven by foreign investment projects and brokered between the government and private companies. They increased in frequency in the past decade and encroached on the land occupied by hundreds of communities. When these lands are converted into industrial agriculture or other uses such as mining, it “destroys the foundation of rural people’s lives, livelihoods and knowledge systems, as well as their access to food, nutrition, medicines and incomes,” according to Bangkok-based non-governmental organisation Focus on the Global South, a Bangkok-based NGO which campaigns for social justice in Laos.
It is estimated that around 70 per cent of all land development projects in Laos are run by foreign investors, mainly from China, Vietnam and Thailand.