Near Bom Or, a village of dirt streets and shacks in northern Laos, Chinese construction crews have cut a tunnel through a mountainside to carry high-speed trains on a 400 km Rail Line across the Country, a section of a planned route from Kunming in south-west China to Singapore.

The tunnel is part of a $6.7 billion project through the rugged countryside around Luang Prabang, the ancient capital of Laos, one of the highest-profile being built under China’s Belt & Road Initiative.

Beijing has used the programme to build Roads, Ports and Power Stations in some of the world’s poorest countries. But critics have raised concerns about the social & environmental impact of the projects, saying that many of them are white elephants that have left states heavily indebted to Beijing.

The Project in Laos, one of Asia’s poorest countries that have no independent media and limited civil society groups, has been carried out with little public consultation.

A villager in Bom Or said that 30 households had been visited three times in September by the Laos government and Chinese company officials, who asked them to move to make way for the train. They refused because they had not been offered financial compensation or alternative housing.

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“We will not leave,” said one man, who asked not to be identified for fear of repercussions. “We want to see a place where we can live.”

Laos’s Communist government sees the rail line as central to its strategy of making the landlocked country ” land-linked “, a term officials use in their quest to refashion it as a regional transport hub.