Notable success in Laos-Belarus cooperation

July 6, 2013

After an official visit to Belarus, President Choummaly Sayasone and his delegation arrived in Vientiane yesterday after notable diplomatic achievements which set the path for greater cooperation between the two countries in the future.

Among the significant successes are the fact that the president and his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko reaffirmed their willingness to expand cooperation in economic and trade matters based on each other’s potential, according to the Lao Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

In this regard, both sides agreed to work together to bolster cooperation in investment, the machinery industry, agricultural processing, crude oil, pharmacy and chemistry, as well as science and technology.

To stimulate greater cooperation, the respective parties aim to bring about conditions to facilitate economic and trade relations and explore joint-venture production operations. In practical support, 10 agreements were signed following talks between the two heads-of-state.

The documents signed included agreements on visa-free travel for diplomats and official passport holders, on promotion and mutual protection of investments, on the avoidance of double taxation and the prevention of fiscal evasion with respect to taxes on income and property. Other agreements pertain to cooperation in research and development and education, according to the Belarusian Telegraph Agency (BTA).

The leaders agreed on the mutual participation of Belarusian and Lao enterprises in the state programmes of the two countries. They will also make use of the newly-established Laos-Belarus Joint Cooperation Commission to boost bilateral relations.

The two leaders highly value their countries’ traditionally friendly relations. They also reached consensus to extend mutual support to one another in regional and international arenas.

In the legislative field, the leaders shared a commitment to increase cooperation between legislative bodies through exchange visits by delegations from their respective national assemblies.

During the visit to Belarus, the Lao president and his entourage toured some important places in the country including the Minsk Automobile Plant and a military academy.

President Choummaly also had meetings with Belarusian Prime Minster Mikhail Myasnikovich as well as high-level congressmen of the Belarusian parliament. On this occasion, President Choummaly invited President Lukashenko and Prime Minister Myasnikovich to visit Laos in the future.

Officials of both sides will also organise activities to mark the 20th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Laos and Belarus.

There has been considerable diplomatic activity between the two countries in recent times. Early last month, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr Thongloun Sisoulith led a delegation paying an official visit to Belarus.

On that occasion, both sides signed a memorandum of understanding to establish the Joint Cooperation Commission between Laos and Belarus. Late last month, Belarusian Economy Minister, Mr Mikalay Snapkow, led a delegation to visit Laos.

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Prime Minister tours a model development village

July 5, 2013

Suang village residents greet Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong and his delegation yesterday.

Suang village residents greet Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong and his delegation yesterday.

Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong traveled to a remote part of Vientiane province to supervise the implementation of the “three build directive,” which aims to empower local authorities to develop themselves.

The three build directive is one of the resolutions of the 9th Party Congress, which aims to transform the province into strategic units, the district as comprehensive units, and villages as development units.

The prime minister and his delegation arrived at Suang village, one of the pilot “three build directive” villages in Vangvieng district, Vientiane province at about 9:00 am where they were greeted by villagers.

A number of government members, provincial governors and provincial officials accompanied the Prime Minister to the village, whose residents were keen to hear advice from top government leaders on how to put the resolution into practice.

Suang village officials told the visiting guests that that the village saw rapid development over the past years after the higher authorities selected the village as part of the pilot project to implement the three build directive.

They said that the village welcomed officials from higher authorities, who can help them to improve village administration, security and the economy, laying a concrete foundation for the villagers to earn a better living and rise above the poverty line.

With assistance from higher authorities under the “three build directive”, the village now has access to electricity, water supplies and health care services. The villagers were also given advice and assistance on how to grow cash crops and raise animals for commercial purposes.

One of the major progressions in the development of the village is that the residents now have a market where they can buy and sell goods so as they can earn cash income, one of the main conditions, which makes the villagers trust in the leadership of the Party and government.

Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong welcomed the new development in the village. However, he urged the local authorities to work harder in the implementation of the three build directive so that the village can further improve its outlook.

He said that to achieve success in village development, Party members and officials in the village should play their part as good role models for local villagers. The village leadership body should also have a better understanding of the Party and government policy and aspirations of the villagers so that they can put the policy into practice effectively.

One of the important tasks which the village authorities must pay attention to is to create conditions for the villagers to maintain unity, take part in preserving security and promote future economic development.

He also urged the local authorities to identify its development potentials, which will in turn enable the people to raise their income levels. He also stressed the importance of education and health care services in the village, adding that children should be encouraged to attend school while villagers should maintain hygiene as part of efforts to prevent disease outbreaks.

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Lao People’s Revolutionary Youth Union’s Secretary’s Cup tournament underway

July 1, 2013

INTRO: More than 70 amateur badminton players from clubs and ministries across Vientiane are battling it out in the Lao People’s Revolutionary Youth Union’s Secretary’s Cup tournament.

STORY: The union held an opening ceremony for the mixed doubles event on Wednesday at their indoor stadium in Vientiane, attended by Union Secretary General, Dr Vilayvong Boutdhakham, senior officials and key sponsors.

Those in the top three places at the end of the tournament can look forward to cash prizes and trophies.

Youth Union Deputy Secretary General, Dr. Sonethanou Thammavong, said the group wanted to encourage young people to play sport for friendship, good health and to promote an anti-drug message.

Last week, the union held a similar national-level petanque event in Vientiane.

The events offer a chance to develop younger players into national or regional level athletes, and are an opportunity to prepare for the 10th National Games in Oudomxay province next year.

Each year, the youth union holds a number of sporting events for young people in Vientiane.

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Laos, Cuba hold talks on bilateral ties

Lao leaders and the visiting Vice President of Cuba’s Council of State have reaffirmed both sides will work together to deepen the traditionally friendly relations and cooperation between Laos and Cuba.

The Lao leaders told Mr Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez, 53, that the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party (LPRP) and the government will continue to nurture close bilateral relations and cooperation with Cuba.

Mr Bermudez, who is also First Vice President of the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Cuba and a politburo member of the Communist Party of Cuba, arrived in Vientiane yesterday for a two-day official visit to Laos. His visit was made in response to an invitation from Lao Vice President and politburo member, Mr Bounnhang Vorachit.

Following an official welcoming ceremony on Saturday at the Presidential Office, Mr Bermudez and the Lao vice president held talks on bilateral ties. Mr Bermudez also paid a courtesy visit to President Choummaly Sayasone and called on Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong.

“At the talks, the Lao leaders reaffirmed the consistent guidelines of the Lao Party and government to enhance the traditional friendly relations and cooperation between the two countries,” a press release from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.

The Lao leaders expressed their heartfelt thanks to the government, people and Communist Party of Cuba (CPC), for the valuable support and assistance they extended to the struggle for liberation in Laos and the current effort for national development and defence.

For his part, Mr Bermudez reaffirmed the guidelines of the government and Communist Party of Cuba to continue deepening the traditional friendly relations and cooperation between the two parties, governments and peoples.

He pledged that Cuba will continue to assist Laos in relation to human resource development and provide assistance in the health and sports sectors, according to the press release.

At the talks, both sides informed each other about the socio-economic situations in their respective countries, reviewed past collaboration and discussed future cooperation in addition to exchanging views on regional and international issues of mutual interest.

On this occasion, Mr Bermudez conveyed the invitation from the First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba’s Central Committee, Mr Raúl Castro to President Choummaly, who is also Secretary General of the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party, to pay an official visit to Cuba at some point in the future.

Mr Castro is also President of the Council of State and the President of the Council of Ministers of Cuba.

The Lao Foreign Ministry described the official visit of Mr Bermudez to Laos as ‘one of the important events in Laos-Cuba relations,’ developing the traditionally friendly relations between the two countries and peoples to ‘a new height’ for the mutual benefit of both parties.

The Cuban delegation also toured various cultural attractions in Vientiane and met with local diplomatic staff before departing Laos for Cuba yesterday.

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Laos-China rail project ‘no obstacle’: minister

April 12, 2013

There are no obstacles to the planned building of the Laos-China high speed railway, although the two governments are in the process of negotiations on the project, Minister of Public Works and Transport Sommad Pholsena said yesterday.

“The two governments are negotiating so that construction can go ahead,” he told local media while attending the ongoing open government meeting in Vientiane.

The minister was unable to say when exactly construction would begin on the US$7 billion railway, which will link Vientiane to the Lao-Chinese border over a distance of 421km.

But he said construction would begin shortly after all parties had reached an agreement and all preparations were complete.

“We should have confidence in the development of a railway network in Laos,” he said. “We have to be patient – rail projects cost a huge amount of money.”

Previously, it was reported that Laos and China planned to jointly undertake the mega railway project, with China to put up 70 percent of the investment cost. A groundbreaking ceremony was planned for 2011 with a completion date of 2015, but the ceremony did not take place.

The project was delayed after the Chinese construction company reportedly pulled out because they felt it would not be sufficiently profitable.

However, the Lao government is determined to bring the project to fruition, and hopes to obtain financing through a loan from China.

In this regard, the National Assembly (NA) approved a “go-ahead bill” at an extraordinary session held last October, to enable the government to realise the project. When asked about financing and whether Laos would still be the sole investor in the project using a loan from Beijing, as reported at the NA’s extraordinary session, Mr Sommad said ‘The details have not been agreed upon.”

But he said that whatever could be agreed upon by both sides for their mutual benefit would be possible.

Although the project requires a huge investment, Mr Sommad was optimistic that it would be realised. The government has a clear policy to transform Laos from being landlocked to a land link and a transport hub for surrounding countries.

The planned railway would form part of the Asean-China rail link, which begins in Yunnan province, China, and runs southwards to Singapore through Laos and Thailand.

In the original plan, passenger trains running at speeds of up to 200 kph were planned but the Lao government has decided to reduce this to 160kph for safety reasons, partly due to the hilly terrain. Goods trains meanwhile will travel at a maximum speed of 120kph, according to a report presented at the NA’s extraordinary session.

Passenger trains might be able to reach a speed of 200kph between Vientiane and Vangvieng where the land is relatively flat, but more studies are needed, the report said.

The project will also include 31 stations, but the government plans to open 20 stations initially and the rest later on.

There will be seven major stations along the route, of which two will be in Vientiane. From there, the railway will run north to China, stopping in Phonhong and Vangvieng districts in Vientiane province, before continuing on to Luang Prabang, Oudomxay, Luang Namtha and the Chinese border.

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Laos achieves remarkable progress in poverty reduction

April 4, 2013

Communist and Lao PDR flags waving along the banks of Mekong.

Communist and Lao PDR flags waving along the banks of Mekong.

The number of poor families in Laos has dropped to 17 percent, it was revealed yesterday during a review of the implementation of the government’s 7th National Socio-Economic Development Plan.

The Ministry of Planning and Investment presented the mid term review of the 2011-15 socio-economic development plan to Laos’ development partners. One of the highlights was that in the first two and a half years of implementation, there has been a significant decline in the number of poor families.

Development partners, senior government officials and economists attended the half day presentation session. Planning Department Deputy Director General Ms Phonevanh Outhanvong and Asian Development Bank Country Deputy Director Mr Barend Frielink presided over the meeting.

According to the review, the government expects to lower the percentage of poor families even further to 15 percent by the end of this year and to 10 percent in 2015. In 2011, it was estimated that 19 percent of families in the country were poor.

The government has spent about 896 billion kip on its poverty reduction programme and plans to spend 7,387 billion kip from 2011 to 2015.

To achieve development targets, the government has built roads to the poorest districts to enable people in rural areas to transport their crops to markets in urban areas.

The government has also encouraged people to grow crops such as sweetcorn, coffee, cassava and sugarcane to generate more income.

Ms Phonevanh thanked the development partners, saying that without their support Laos would not have been able to achieve this measure of success.

“The government has faced several difficulties in implementing the 7th socio-economic development plan, including the global economic crisis and climate change. However, with our increased efforts and the assistance of our development partners, Laos has achieved a number of successes,” she said during a speech to open the meeting.

The presentation noted that Laos has been able to sustain economic growth of at least eight percent.

The growth rate was 8.1 percent in the fiscal year 2010-11 and 8.3 percent in 2011-12.

The main driving force of economic growth over the past two and a half years has been the industry and service sectors. Industry contributed 29.6 percent of total GDP in the 2011-12 fiscal year while the service

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Prof. Bosengkham Vongdara highlights Party’s achievements

April 4, 2013

Prof. Bosengkham Vongdara

Minister of Information, Culture and Tourism, Prof. Dr Bosengkham Vongdara highlights Party’s achievements, according to him, the tourism sector experienced rapid growth in 2012 thanks to the wise leadership of the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party.

Speaking at a lecture on Tuesday to mark the 58th anniversary of the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party, Prof. Dr Bosengkham, who is a member of the Party Central Committee, said that under the Party’s leadership, Lao people have gained access to global information sources. Ordinary people can watch a large number of foreign television channels including BBC and CNN. He said Laos enjoyed greater media freedom than many other countries, adding that in some countries it’s not possible to access as many international broadcasting channels.

One of the major achievements of the Party’s leadership in 2012 was the boom in tourism. Prof. Dr Bosengkham said tourist arrivals climbed to 3.3 million in 2012, generating income of about US$500 million. Political stability, improved transport and the country’s picturesque scenery make Laos an attractive tourist destination. Another significant aspect of the Party’s leadership is that Laos has been able to maintain political stability. This is essential for the government to develop the country and bring prosperity to its people, who are the owners of the country.

Laos has seen GDP growth of over 7.5 percent for the past 10 years thanks to the Party’s wise leadership. Strong and continuous economic growth has helped to free large numbers of people from poverty. At present, only 17 percent of households are categorised as poor.

Annual per capita income now stands at US$1,355, up from just US$114 in 1995 and US$534 in 2006. Laos is now on track to achieve the UN Millennium Development Goals in 2015.

The Lao People’s Revolutionary Party was established on March 22, 1955, in the former revolutionary stronghold of Huaphan in the northeast of Laos. The Party was formed to lead the Lao people in repelling the foreign aggressors. The Party played a significant role in leading its armed forces and civilians to liberate the country from foreign domination.

This enabled the Party to seize power from the royal government and establish the Lao People’s Democratic Republic on December 2, 1975. Many ministries and government bodies around the country held similar events to mark the Party’s founding.

Some 300 ministry officials, most of them Party members, attended the lecture to learn about the history and achievements of the Party from the time of its founding in 1955 until the present.

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Laos: Improving lives by clearing UXOs in Sekong Province

April 4, 2013

Since 2007, CARE with support from AusAID and other partners has worked with over 2,500 families from 19 villages in Sekong Province to improve their livelihoods by reducing the impact of unexploded ordnance (UXO).

To date over 97ha of land has been cleared of UXOs, allowing families to expand their rice fields, and use the land to grow new crops such as coffee, or try new income-generating activities such as fish farming.

Lao PDR is the most bombed country in the world per capita. More than two million tons of ordnance was dropped on the country during the Second Indochina War. Up to 30 per cent of some types of ordnance did not detonate.

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Officials vow to make real progress towards MDGs

April 5, 2013

Lao and overseas officials have vowed to compile a report that reflects the true progress of Laos towards achieving the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

The officials made this commitment during a second workshop held yesterday in Vientiane to discuss the draft of the third report on the progress made towards the landmark development goals.

“I wish you well in generating a good report which reflects the reality of our situation, foresees and agrees on the challenges and figures, and how much achievement has been recorded so far,” Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Alounkeo Kittikhoun said in his opening remarks at the meeting.

Mr Alounkeo highlighted Laos’ achievements in striving for MDG No. 1 which concerns poverty reduction. He said the percentage of people living below the national poverty line has dropped from 48 percent in 1990 to 22 percent at present.

But despite this figure having been halved, the problem persists and there is no easy solution, he said. The same is true of malnutrition, which is a big challenge and is not just about health but involves awareness, healthy eating, breastfeeding, education and issues surrounding stunted growth.

He praised the cooperation between the Lao government, UN agencies and development partners who help to find solutions to ensure better coordination on nutrition. At the same time he called on line ministries and UN agencies to agree on figures during the workshop as a basis for continuing the good work towards realising the goals.

Regarding MDG No. 7 which relates to environmental sustainability, Mr Alounkeo said land use management had been effective in certain areas but not in others.

“We should not deny that mistakes have been made and we welcome all the comments of our friends, and on that basis we will always try to improve,” he added.

Mr Alounkeo also referred to Laos’ special goal – MDG No. 9 – the clearance of unexploded ordnance. UXO is a great obstacle to development efforts as all 17 provinces in the country are contaminated with these remnants of war.

UN Resident Coordinator Minh Pham said that, despite the brighter picture, progress had not essentially been made on the situation presented at the Round Table Implementation Meeting last November. However, some detailed and supportive indicators have changed and the availability of new data such as the labour force survey did not reveal differences with ongoing administrative data.

He noted that some of the new data from the survey confirms the continuing progress shown by the administrative data such as in education, while other data also showed that progress was not as much as had been assumed.

“Some data may also show that the disparity between different social economic groups could be greater than we have assumed. I would suggest that we welcome all new data even if these will conflict with previous assumptions,” Mr Pham said.

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Hard work reaps rewards for Phongsaly farmer

By Meuangkham Noradeth
March 30, 2013

Rearing pigs for sale brings in extra income for rural folk.

A Phongsaly farmer, Mr Seng Hadxeuy, aged 40, has found that hard work and a burning desire to improve his quality of life has lifted him out of poverty, after growing crops and raising animals for several years.

Mr Seng’s family, who live in Hadxeuy village, Khua district, have shown other villagers that their hard work has enabled them to improve their living conditions and put poverty behind them.

Mr Seng said that at one time his family barely had enough to live on but since they began labouring in their fields to grow rice and rear animals, their lot has vastly improved.

He also learnt that he could call on the government for help, and borrowed 100 million kip from the Agricultural Promotion Bank so that he could plant more rice and keep more pigs.

Mr Seng said that thanks to assistance from the bank and government officials, he is now rearing more pigs than ever before.

He bought 100 piglets from Oudomxay province and after six months was able to sell them for 1.9 million kip per pig, which brought him in more than 160 million kip that year.

His family also keeps chickens and they have a pond where they breed fish. He also grows rubber, teak and agarwood for sale, which brings in more than 20 million kip per year.

Mr Seng now earns about 200 million kip per year on average, and his family is a prime example of how individuals can rise above poverty.

With every member of the family working hard together, they are now reaping the rewards of their efforts and living a better life with each passing year.

He says that in the future he will rear more pigs and chickens and grow more tree species, which he will sell.

Mr Seng’s family is not only a prime example of how individuals can rise above poverty but also of how a neighbourhood can benefit from having a family of their caliber in its midst. Their efforts are helping Khua district as a whole to move closer to achieving the Millennium Development Goals by 2015 as targeted.

Khua district is located in a mountainous and remote area of Phongsaly province. It is not on the government’s list of the 46 poorest districts nationwide but is nevertheless home to a large number of poor families. This means assistance from the government, international organisations and other groups is critical to making a difference in the community.

People in the district mostly grow rice, rubber and cardamom and a variety of vegetables. But it’s difficult for them to expand their farmland because they are surrounded by mountains.

Khua district is home to 5,618 families. At present about 3,496 of those families are living in poverty, and district officials are not sure they will be able to declare basic poverty alleviation by 2015, and have asked for more funding to be made available to build essential infrastructure.

The district contains 98 villages, 23 of which have no road access, and travel in the rainy season is very difficult.

Average annual per capita income is now just over 2.7 million kip, and is expected to reach 3.9 million kip in 2015.

The Lao government defines poverty as not having enough food, lacking adequate clothing, not having permanent housing and lacking access to health, education and transportation services.

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