Top Story of the week: Clinton makes historic visit to Laos
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Laos’s foreign debt rose by 6.47 percent last year as the country continued to use foreign loans for development purposes. According to the Bank of the Lao PDR’s annual report, outstanding foreign debt reached US$2.9 billion in December 2011, about 6.4 percent more compared to the previous year. Multilateral debt accounted for 58 percent of total foreign debt while the rest was bilateral debt, accounting for 42 percent.
The ILO and Government of Lao PDR are working together to make cross-border labour migration a safer prospect for Laotians wishing to work abroad. Supported by AusAID, the Australian Aid Agency, the ILO’s TRIANGLE project and the Laotian government are bringing together job seekers and officially endorsed recruitment agencies to ensure that cross-border migration is safe, legal and profitable for migrants. Allan Dow from the ILO’s Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific reports.
Laos approves $2 bn investment projects, The Nation, July 10
Private investment in Laos saw an unexpected surge over the first six months of this fiscal year after the government launched its one-stop registration service in October.
From October to March, the government approved 98 domestic and foreign investment projects with a total investment value of US$2 billion (Bt61 billion), 31 per cent higher than originally forecast, according to a report from the Ministry of Planning and Investment. The government had expected to approve only $1.5 billion worth of investment projects this fiscal year, but after six months the approved investment value was already above the target figure. The increase was attributed to the improved services provided for investors.
The Lao government has announced a moratorium for 4 years on new mining investments and the granting of concessions for rubber plantations due to environmental and social concerns.
It will allow land surveys and assessments to be made. Chairman of the NGO network, the Land Issues Working Group, Nishan Disanayake has told Radio Australia's Connect Asia program it supports the government's decision, but says it should also include projects that have been approved, but haven't started. "The government's state land concession inventory study showed that for one province 50 per cent of the projects improved had not yet been implemented, he said.
The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has launched a new Country Partnership Strategy for Laos, which will support implementation of the government's national socio-economic development plan from 2012 to 2016.
The ADB teamed up with the World Bank for a ceremony in Vientiane to officially launch their new aid strategies for Laos, towards fulfillment of the current five-year development plan. According to the ADB, its new aid strategy, which will run from 2012 to 2016, is designed to help the government diversify the economy in a sustainable and inclusive manner, leading to poverty reduction.
Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong yesterday received a courtesy visit from World Bank Regional Vice President for East Asia and the Pacific, Ms Pamela Cox.
Ms Cox, who manages a staff working in 22 countries across the region and a US$29.7 billion lending portfolio, arrived in Vientiane yesterday, a day after the World Bank in Laos announced the launch of its new country partnership strategy for Laos from 2012 to 2015.
The theoretical potential for wind energy in Laos is estimated to be more than 182,000 megawatts (MW), though the potential under very good and excellent wind regimes is relatively small at around 2,800MW.
This was the finding of a report titled Renewable Energy Development Strategy in the Lao PDR, published in October 2011 by the Ministry of Energy and Mines and supported by the government of Finland. Wind resources are identified to be high in Khammuan and Savannakhet provinces, according to the publication.
Although Laos lacks conventional energy resources such as oil and natural gas and has limited reserves of coal, the country has abundant renewable energy resources including biomass, hydropower and solar energy.
This was the finding of a report titled Renewable Energy Development Strategy in the Lao PDR, published in October 2011 by the Ministry of Energy and Mines and supported by the government of Finland.
In some parts of the country there is potential for wind and geothermal energy, according to the publication.
The Bank of the Lao PDR will modernise commercial banks in Laos as the country speeds up economic integration with the regional and global comm unity. According to the central bank’s annual report which was made available to Vientiane Times this week, the bank will modernise the services provided by commercial banks to enable them to integrate with international levels and standards.
People are more confident about building their savings in Lao kip now that the value of the national currency has been stable for the past few years.
According to an annual report from the Bank of the Lao PDR, the value of kip deposits at commercial banks in Laos reached 9,869 billion kip in December 2011, accounting for about 45 percent of total deposits. The rest of the money deposited was in foreign currencies. The bank’s 2011 report revealed that its total deposits amounted to 22,125 billion kip as of the end of December, up by about 18 percent on the previous year. The value of deposits accounted for 34 percent of total GDP in the same period.
Food & Agriculture
The Lao government says it will not allow any new investments in mining or grant further land for rubber plantations until 2015, amid concerns about its environmental and social impact on local communities.
The Minister of Planning and Investment Somdy Duangdy has told state media the decision was made after receiving complaints about projects encroaching on villagers' land and causing environmental problems.
He says all existing projects will be reviewed and future projects will not be approved until the government has conducted thorough land surveys. The announcement has been welcomed by land rights activists, but they warn that previous moratoriums have not been enforced.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Wednesday became the first high-ranking U.S. official to visit Laos since the Vietnam War era, when the United States dropped 260 million cluster bombs across the countryside in a nine-year campaign to crush North Vietnamese supply lines and bases.
Clinton met with Laotian Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong and other officials for talks that centered mostly on addressing the lingering effects of that war and then toured a small museum devoted to its human toll.
As Hillary Clinton made the first trip to Laos by a U.S. Secretary of State in nearly six decades, activists urged America to step up its spending to clear vast stretches of Lao land still littered with unexploded bombs from its secret war decades ago.
From 1963 to 1973, the U.S. pounded Laos with a ton of bombs for every person in the country, part of a secret campaign to try to stop Communist incursions from North Vietnam, according to Legacies of War, a U.S. nonprofit group seeking to raise awareness of the lingering problem in Laos.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clintonmade a brief stop on her Asia tour on Wednesday in Laos, the first visit by an American secretary of state here in 57 years and one that brought into stark relief the enduring legacy of the Vietnam War.
At an artificial-limb center, Mrs. Clinton met a 19-year-old who lost his forearms and eyesight when a bomb, dropped by the United States Air Force during the Vietnam War and unexploded for decades, finally blew up three years ago.
It was a painful sixteenth birthday for Phongsavath Souliyalat. It was the day he lost both arms and his eyesight when a U.S. cluster bomblet exploded in his hands. While walking to school, a friend handed him the unexploded bomb without realizing that it would nearly kill Souliyalat.
The two teenagers weren't even alive during the relentless bombing campaign by U.S. forces to cut off supply lines to the North Vietnamese, from 1964 to 1975, but their generation continues to stumble upon lethal reminders.
Hillary Clinton arrived in Laos on Wednesday for a brief but historic trip, becoming the first US secretary of state to visit the communist country in 57 years.
The visit will focus on the legacy of the Vietnam War and a controversial dam project. "It's a pretty big deal for the Laotians, and we will underscore a number of areas that we're working on together," a senior US official said.
Disarmament activists and former US ambassadors are urging Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to increase US aid to Laos to clear millions of tonnes of unexploded ordinance (UXO) left by US bombers on its territory during the Indochina War during her brief visit to the country Wednesday. The visit, scheduled to last only a few hours on a hectic eight-nation tour by Clinton designed in part to underline the Barack Obama administration's "pivot" from the Middle East to Asia, will nonetheless be historic. No sitting US secretary of state has visited Laos since 1955.
Sources here said Clinton is considering a US$100 million aid commitment to support bomb-clearing efforts over a 10-year period. Such a commitment would more than double the nearly $47 million Washington has provided in UXO assistance since 1997 when it first began funding UXO programs in Laos.
Hillary Clinton's visit to Laos on Wednesday will be the first by a U.S. secretary of state in 57 years, and it comes at a crucial time: The small, landlocked nation is taking on growing importance as it is pulled deeper into China's orbit.
The trip to Vientiane, following a stop by Mrs. Clinton in Hanoi, reflects U.S. efforts to rebuild alliances in Southeast Asia at a time when Beijing is rapidly expanding its influence in the region.
Laos, a small, landlocked nation, has fewer residents than New York City, with a population under seven million. It also has the smallest economy in Southeast Asia, with annual output of about $7 billion, versus about $125 billion for Vietnam, its eastern neighbor.
The United States and the Lao People’s Democratic Republic met on June 27, 2012 in Washington, DC for the Fourth U.S.-Laos Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell and Vice Foreign Minister of Laos Bounkeut Sangsomsak co-chaired the dialogue.
The dialogue provided an opportunity to engage in a comprehensive discussion of bilateral and regional issues that reflected the expanding relationship between the United States and Laos.
The United States and Laos held their fourth Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue on Wednesday to discuss a wide range of bilateral and regional issues in a bid to expand the bilateral ties, the U.S. State Department said.
The dialogue was co-chaired by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell and Lao Vice Foreign Minister Bounkeut Sangsomsak. "The dialogue provided an opportunity to engage in a comprehensive discussion of bilateral and regional issues that reflected our expanding relationship," the State Department said in a statement issued after the meeting.
The conference was co-chaired by President of the Vietnam Fatherland Front’s (VFF) Central Committee Huynh Dam and President of the Lao Front for National Construction (LFNC) Phandouangchit Vongsa.
The conference, which is among activities to celebrate the 2012 Vietnam-Laos Year of Friendship and Solidarity, 50 years of the establishment of the Vietnam-Laos diplomatic ties and 35 years of the signing of the Friendship and Cooperation Treaty between the two countries, focused on reviewing the cooperation results after 2 years of implementing the emulation agreement of VFF Central Committee and LFNC.
Health & Life Sciences
A Lao government minister on Tuesday reaffirmed Laos' commitment to universal reproductive health care and maternal health.
At a press conference here to mark Wednesday's World Population Day, the Lao Ministry of Planning and Investment (MPI)'s Deputy Minister Bounthavy Sisouphanthong indicated that access to health services and information was still limited, especially in rural areas. World Population Day is an annual event, observed on July 11, which seeks to raise awareness of global population issues. This year's theme is "Universal Access to Reproductive Health Services".
A Japanese hospital group wants to build a modern hospital in Laos that would offer up-to-date health services.
The “Tokushukai” hospital group delegation, led by their President Dr Narumi Koshizawa, expressed interest in the project during a meeting with Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong on Friday at the Government Office. The two sides discussed the feasibility of building a 500-bed modern hospital in Vientiane.
Despite a well-run domestic prevention and treatment programs in Laos, the overall incidence of HIV/AIDS in the country seemed to be going up, according to UNAIDS Country Coordinator for Laos Pascal Stenier.
"The number of new cases for last year is estimated to be one thousand, which is three new infections per day," Stenier said recently in an exclusive interview with Xinhua.
The Laos government has been working extensively with UNAIDS and other UN organizations to reduce the impact and transmission of HIV/AIDS in the country. As the region changes and develops rapidly, however, the at-risk groups and risk activities change and this impacts on the effectiveness of the programs.
Laos will allow a foreign delegation to inspect the Mekong River site of a US$3.5 billion dam project that has attracted widespread criticism, sources said Monday.
"We will be taken by bus from Luang Prabang to the Xayaburi site on Tuesday for an inspection," Mekong River Commission spokesman Surasak Glahan said. "I think the tour is the result of concerns raised by some of our development partners at the MRC donor meeting last month."
Laos confirms has suspended controversial Xayaburi dam, Reuters, July 13
Laos confirmed on Friday that work has been suspended on a controversial $3.5 billion hydropower dam on the Mekong River after requests from neighboring countries and environmental groups, the first time the government has publicly declared the project halted.
Hillary Clinton pushed Laos for more studies on a $3.6 billion hydropower dam on the Mekong River opposed by neighboring countries in the first visit by a U.S. Secretary of State in 57 years.
The trip is part of a broader sweep Clinton is making through Asia as the U.S. increases its engagement with the world’s fastest growing economies, in part to counter China’s growing clout. Laos, a landlocked nation of 6 million people bordering China, plans to expand its generating capacity and sell electricity to its neighbors.
Laotian Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong assured Clinton that the Xayaburi power project wouldn’t proceed without approval from neighboring countries, according to a State Department official who wasn’t authorized to speak on the record. Laos plans to hold an international conference about the project to ease concerns, the official said.
Laos has pledged to stall construction of a controversial multi-billion dollar dam on the Mekong river until all its neighbours' environmental concerns have been answered, state media said on Friday.
The US$3.8 billion (S$4.82 billion) hydroelectric project at Xayaburi, led by Thai group CH Karnchang, has sharply divided the four Mekong nations - Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand - who rely on the river system for fish and irrigation. 'The Xayaburi project will develop one of the most transparent and modern dams in the world,' Deputy Minister of Energy and Mines Viraphonh Viravong told state-run Vientiane Times.
The electricity generating capacity of Laos will continue to surge next year when four more hydropower plants become operational.
According to a report from the Ministry of Planning and Investment, construction of the Theun Hinboun expansion project in central Khammuan province and the Nam Ngum 5 dam in Vientiane province are on track for completion at the end of this year.
The National Assembly approved an amendment to the Law on Civil Procedure on Thursday aiming to address various loopholes related to civil disputes after the previous amendment to the law in 2004.
The amendment was approved by a majority vote of the NA members who spent a lot of time discussing the matter to make the law more comprehensive, reflecting the perceived needs of the country.