Monday May 27, 2019
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Laos’ Champasak Province Refuses To Sell Their Land For SEZ

About a dozen active special and specific economic zones have been created throughout the country to attract foreign direct investment to boost development and job opportunities in rural areas since 2002 when the first SEZ was set up.

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Khone Phapheng Falls, a series of cascading waterfalls on the Mekong River in Khong district of southwestern Laos' Champasak province, is one of the sountry's most beautiful natural attractions. RFA

At least 140 families from eight villages in the Khong district of southwestern Laos’ Champasak province are refusing to sell their land or relocate to make way for a special economic zone planned for their area.

Despite this, developers have begun the hasty construction of an access road that would bring construction traffic dangerously close to some of the villages.

The first phase of the Mahanathy Siphandone special economic zone (SEZ) is expected to be built by 2021 and will cover nearly 200 hectares (494 acres) of land throughout the six villages. The project will be expanded to cover nearly 10,000 (24,710 acres) hectares of land in the province.

During the first phase of construction, 35 five-star hotels and casinos will be built at a cost of more than U.S. $9 billion.

The Laos Mahanathy Siphandone (Hong Kong) Investment Co. Ltd., also known as Laos Maha Nathi Sithandone (Hong Kong) Investment Co. Ltd., received a 99-year concession for the land on which the SEZ will sit, is providing 80 percent of the funding, while the Lao government is supplying the rest.

The company and the Lao government signed a memorandum of understanding on June 20, 2017, for the first phase of construction, according to project documents.

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“Developers want to expand to Done Khong island and Done Sadao island, but villagers didn’t agree with the plan. They want the development far away from their community, near Khone Phapheng waterfalls because they don’t want their rights violated.”

But residents of Ban Hinsiu, Ban Phon, Ban Hang Khong, Ban Don Khong, Ban Muang Sen, Ban Phon Kao, Ban Thakhob, and Ban Houakhok villages have officially refused to give up their land.

“The company wants people’s land, but people don’t want to just hand it over,” said the chief of an affected village in an interview with RFA’s Lao Service last month.

“We launched a complaint to the People’s Council insisting that we don’t want to give up our land. We’ve been living here for generations,” the chief said.

People living in the affected area say they understand what is at stake. The SEZ could be beneficial to the region and the country as a whole, providing a needed economic jumpstart.

“We are all for economic growth, but if we give up the land, we will not have place to live,” said the chief.

He explained that the authorities, after hearing their complaints, decided to give another plot of land to the company, closer to Tha Khob village, near an old golf course, but this did not solve the problem, because the company is building a 40-km (25-mile) access road to get there.

“The road is only six meters wide, but the Lao authorities say it needs to be 6.5 meters. Since construction [of the road] has already started, the company is simply filling out what would be the shoulder of the road with soil in an effort to save money,” said the chief.

A Khong district official said that villagers and developers have been unable to compromise on the scope of the project.

“Developers want to expand to Done Khong island and Done Sadao island, but villagers didn’t agree with the plan. They want the development far away from their community, near Khone Phapheng waterfalls because they don’t want their rights violated.”

The district official added that the initial plan of the development will cover 3,000 hectares of land and affect eight villages. Later the development will expand to 6,000 hectares and will affect 11 more villages.

As one of the least developed Southeast Asian nations, Laos has become a target for massive foreign investment, especially from companies in China, Thailand, and Vietnam, which receive attractive investment incentives from the Lao government.

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“We launched a complaint to the People’s Council insisting that we don’t want to give up our land. We’ve been living here for generations,” the chief said. Pixabay

About a dozen active special and specific economic zones have been created throughout the country to attract foreign direct investment to boost development and job opportunities in rural areas since 2002 when the first SEZ was set up.

Also Read: Human Rights in Cambodia Concludes on Note: Peace Without Justice is Unsustainable

The government has said that it plans to build 41 special and specific economic zones, mostly in border areas and remote parts of the country, and that the zones will create about 50,000 jobs and possibly increase local per capita incomes to as much as U.S. $2,400.

Laos’ per capita income in 2017 was U.S. $2,330, according to the World Bank. (RFA)

Next Story

Know How U.S. is Keeping A Check on Social Media’s Spread of Fake News

“What have you done to ensure that all your folks out there globally know the dog whistles, know the keywords, the phrasing, the things that people respond to, so we can be more responsive and be proactive in blocking some of this language?”

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"People cannot use our fundraising tools for activities involving weapons," said a Facebook spokesperson in a statement. VOA

As Notre Dame Cathedral burned, a posting on Facebook circulated – a grainy video of what appeared to be a man in traditional Muslim garb up in the cathedral.

Fact-checkers worldwide jumped into action and pointed out the video and postings were fake and the posts never went viral.

But this week, the Sri Lanka government temporarily shut down Facebook and other sites to stop the spread of misinformation in the wake of the Easter Sunday bombings in the country that killed more than 250 people. Last year, misinformation on Facebook was blamed for contributing to riots in the country.

Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and others are increasingly being held responsible for the content on their sites as the world tries to grapple in real time with events as they unfold. From lawmakers to the public, there has been a rising cry for the sites to do more to combat misinformation particularly if it targets certain groups.

Shift in sense of responsibility

For years, some critics of social media companies, such as Twitter, YouTube and Facebook, have accused them of having done the minimum to monitor and stamp out misinformation on their platforms. After all, the internet platforms are generally not legally responsible for the content there, thanks to a 1996 U.S. federal law that says they are not publishers. This law has been held up as a key protection for free expression online.

And, that legal protection has been key to the internet firms’ explosive growth. But there is a growing consensus that companies are ethically responsible for misleading content, particularly if the content has an audience and is being used to target certain groups.

An Indian man browses through the twitter account of Alt News, a fact-checking website, in New Delhi, India, April 2, 2019.
An Indian man browses through the twitter account of Alt News, a fact-checking website, in New Delhi, India, April 2, 2019. VOA

Tuning into dog whistles

At a recent House Judiciary Committee hearing on white supremacy and hate crimes, Congresswoman Sylvia Garcia, a Texas Democrat, questioned representatives from Facebook and Google about their policies.

“What have you done to ensure that all your folks out there globally know the dog whistles, know the keywords, the phrasing, the things that people respond to, so we can be more responsive and be proactive in blocking some of this language?” Garcia asked.

Each company takes a different approach.

Facebook, which perhaps has had the most public reckoning over fake news, won’t say it’s a media company. But it has taken partial responsibility about the content on its site, said Daniel Funke, a reporter at the International Fact-Checking Network at the Poynter Institute.

The social networking giant uses a combination of technology and humans to address false posts and messages that appear to target groups. It is collaborating with outside fact-checkers to weed out objectionable content, and has hired thousands to grapple with content issues on its site.

Swamp of misinformation

Twitter has targeted bots, automatic accounts that spread falsehoods. But fake news often is born on Twitter and jumps to Facebook.

“They’ve done literally nothing to fight misinformation,” Funke said.

YouTube, owned by Google, has altered its algorithms to make it harder to find problematic videos, or embed code to make sure relevant factual content comes up higher in the search. YouTube is “such a swamp of misinformation just because there is so much there, and it lives on beyond the moment,” Funke said.

Other platforms of concern are Instagram and WhatsApp, both owned by Facebook.

Some say what the internet companies have done so far is not enough.

“To use a metaphor that’s often used in boxing, truth is against the ropes. It is getting pummeled,” said Sam Wineburg, an education professor at Stanford University.

What’s needed, he said, is for the companies to take full responsibility: “This is a mess we’ve created and we are going to devote resources that will lower the profits to shareholders, because it will require a deeper investment in our own company.”

FILE - An activist wearing a Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg mask stands outside Portcullis House in Westminster as an international committee of parliamentarians met for a hearing on the impact of disinformation on democracy in London.
An activist wearing a Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg mask stands outside Portcullis House in Westminster as an international committee of parliamentarians met for a hearing on the impact of disinformation on democracy in London. VOA

Fact-checking and artificial intelligence

One of the fact-checking organizations that Facebook works with is FactCheck.org. It receives misinformation posts from Facebook and others. Its reporters check out the stories then report on their own site whether the information is true or false. That information goes back to Facebook as well.

Facebook is “then able to create a database now of bad actors, and they can start taking action against them,” said Eugene Kiely, director of FactCheck.org. Facebook has said it will make it harder to find posts by people or groups that continually post misinformation.

The groups will see less financial incentives, Kiely points out. “They’ll get less clicks and less advertising.”

Funke predicts companies will use technology to semi-automate fact-checking, making it better, faster and able to match the scale of misinformation.

Also Read: Now Google Assistant Will Help You Making Your Baby Sleep

That will cost money of course.

It also could slow the internet companies’ growth.

Does being more responsible mean making less money? Social media companies are likely to find out. (VOA)