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Authorities in Laos’ Champassak province have revoked the licenses of a Lao development firm for tourism projects around two waterfalls in the province so that a Hong Kong-based developer could take over.

In a Dec. 30 notice, Provincial Governor Bounthong Divixay approved the cancellation of licenses that were issued to a the Laos-based Yingsokxay Company in 2011 to build tourist facilities near the Khone Phapheng waterfall, the largest in Southeast Asia, and nearby Somphamith waterfall.

The decision also put an end to a 2012 agreement that allowed a business group to make tourism parks and collect admission fees for Khone Phapheng.

The government announcement also said the province was awarding concessions to the Laos Mahanathy Siphandone Investment Co. Ltd, a Hong Kong firm which in received a 99-year concession to develop a special economic zone (SEZ) in the that overlapped the waterfalls area in 2018.

An official of the Provincial Planning and Investment Department confirmed the takeover with RFA’s Lao Service on Thursday.

“The licenses were revoked because the Laos Mahanathy Siphandone company will take over, but everything will remain the same. Only the developer will change. The new developer will take over the projects soon,” the official said.

Boualy Phetsongkham, the Head of the province’s Administration Office, also confirmed to Vientiane Times on Friday, saying, “The former investors have done nothing wrong. The licenses have been cancelled so that a project authorized by the government can go ahead.”

According to the state-run Vientiane Times, state authorities will compensate the Lao company for its investments including the costs of buildings and restaurants it constructed.

A representative of the Yingsokxay told RFA on Thusday, “The change is not official yet. This is just politics.”

Laos Mahanathy Siphandone’s 99-year concession from the Lao government on June 30, 2018 allows them to develop the U.S. $9 billion SEZ, but so far it has only built a 43-kilometer access road that has affected 140 families in eight villages.

RFA reported in May 2019 that the initial plan for the SEZ would 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.

Reported and Translated by RFA’s Lao Service. Written in English by Eugene Whong.