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In historic visit, Clinton reaches out to Laos

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, left, and Laotian Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong meet at the Prime Minister's Office in Vientiane, Laos, Wednesday, July 11, 2012. (AP Photo/Brendon Smialowski, Pool)

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary visit Lao PM


VIENTIANE, Laos (AP) — Hillary Rodham Clinton became the first U.S. secretary of state to visit Laos in more than five decades, gauging whether a place the United States pummeled with bombs during the Viet War could evolve into a new foothold of American influence in Asia.

Clinton met with the communist government’s prime minister and foreign minister in the capital of Vientiane on Wednesday, part of a weeklong diplomatic tour of Southeast Asia. The goal is to bolster America’s standing in some of the fastest growing markets of the world, and counter China’s expanding economic, diplomatic and military dominance of the region.

Thirty-seven years since the end of America’s long war in Indochina, Laos is the latest test case of the Obama administration’s efforts to “pivot” U.S. foreign policy away from the long wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It follows a long period of estrangement between Washington and a once hostile Cold War-era foe, and comes as U.S. relations warm with countries such as Myanmar and Vietnam.

In her meetings, Clinton discussed environmental concerns over a proposed dam on the Mekong River, investment opportunities and joint efforts to clean up the tens of millions of unexploded bombs the U.S. dropped on Laos during the Vietnam War. Greater American support programs in these fields will be included in a multimillion-dollar initiative for Southeast Asia to be announced later this week.

After the meetings, she said they “traced the arc of our relationship from addressing the tragic legacies of the past to finding a way to being partners of the future.”

Clinton also visited a Buddhist temple and a U.S.-funded prosthetic center for victims of American munitions.

At the prosthetic center, she met a man named Phongsavath Souliyalat, who told her how he had lost both his hands and his eyesight from a cluster bomb on his 16th birthday.

“We have to do more,” Clinton told him. “That’s one of the reasons I wanted to come here today, so that we can tell more people about the work that we should be doing together.”

The last U.S. secretary of state to visit Laos was John Foster Dulles in 1955. His plane landed after being forced to circle overhead while a water buffalo was cleared from the tarmac.

At that time, the mountainous, sparsely populated nation was at the center of U.S. foreign policy. On leaving office, President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned his successor, John F. Kennedy, that if Laos fell to the communists, all Southeast Asia could be lost as well.

While Vietnam ended up the focal point of America’s “domino theory” foreign policy, Laos was drawn deeply into the conflict as the U.S. funded its anti-communist forces and bombed North Vietnamese supply lines and bases.

The U.S. dropped more than 2 million tons of bombs on the impoverished country during its “secret war” between 1964 and 1973 — about a ton of ordnance for each Laotian man, woman and child. That exceeded the amount dropped on Germany and Japan together in World War II, making Laos the most heavily bombed nation per person in history.

Four decades later, American weapons are still claiming lives. When the war ended, about a third of some 270 million cluster bombs dropped on Laos had failed to detonate, leaving the country awash in unexploded munitions. More than 20,000 people have been killed by ordnance in postwar Laos, according to its government, and contamination throughout the country is a major barrier to agricultural development.

Cleanup has been excruciatingly slow. The Washington-based Legacies of War says only 1 percent of contaminated lands have been cleared and has called on Washington to provide far greater assistance. The State Department has provided $47 million since 1997, though a larger effort could make Laos “bomb-free in our lifetimes,” California Rep. Mike Honda argued.

“Let us mend the wounds of the past together so that Laos can begin a new legacy of peace,” said Honda, who is Japanese-American.

The U.S. is spending $9 million this year on cleanup operations for unexploded ordnance in Laos, but is likely to offer more in the coming days.

It is part of a larger Obama administration effort to reorient the direction of U.S. diplomacy and commercial policy as the world’s most populous continent becomes the center of the global economy over the next century. It is also a reaction to China’s expanding influence.

Despite America’s difficult history in the region, nations in Beijing’s backyard are welcoming the greater engagement — and the promise of billions of dollars more in American investment. The change has been sudden, with some longtime U.S. foes now seeking a relationship that could serve at least as a counterweight to China’s regional hegemony.

Myanmar, also known as Burma, has made significant strides toward reform and democracy after decades as an international pariah, when it was universally scorned for its atrocious labor rights record and its long repression of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s pro-democracy movement. The Obama administration is expected to ease investment restrictions in the country this week.

Vietnam, threatened by Beijing’s claims to the resource-rich South China Sea, has dramatically deepened diplomatic and commercial ties with the United States, with their two-country trade now exceeding $22 billion a year — from nothing two decades ago. Clinton on Tuesday made her third trip to the fast-growing country, meeting with senior communist officials to prod them into greater respect for free expression and labor rights.

Landlocked and impoverished Laos offers fewer resources than its far larger neighbors and has lagged in Asia’s economic boom. It remains one of the poorest countries in Asia, even as it hopes to kick-start its development with accession soon to the World Trade Organization.

In recent years, China has stepped up as Laos’ principal source of assistance, with loans and grants of up to $350 million over the last two decades. But like many others in its region, Laos’ government is wary of Beijing’s intentions. And it has kept an envious eye on neighboring Vietnam’s 40 percent surge in commercial trade with the United States over the last two years, as well as the sudden rapprochement between the U.S. and nearby Myanmar.

Persistent human rights issues stand in the way of closer relations with Washington. The U.S. remains concerned about the plight of the ethnic Hmong minority, most of whom fled the country after fighting for a U.S.-backed guerilla army during the Vietnam War. Nearly 250,000 resettled in the United States. The U.S. has pressed Laos to respect the rights of returnees from neighboring countries.

Washington also has been seeking greater cooperation from Laos on the search for U.S. soldiers missing in action since the Vietnam War. More than 300 Americans remain unaccounted for in Laos.

And it is pressing the government to hold off on a proposed $3.5 billion dam project across the Mekong River. The dam would be the first across the river’s mainstream and has sparked a barrage of opposition from neighboring countries and environmental groups, which warn that tens of millions of livelihoods could be at stake.

The project is currently on hold and Washington hopes to stall it further with the promise of funds for new environmental studies.


Laos holds first gay pride event despite taboo…Hun Sen fell far behind Lao on human rights

Wednesday, Jun 27, 2012

BANGKOK – Laos has held its first ever gay pride event in what supporters hope is a sign of softening social values in the small communist country.

Although homosexuality is legal in Laos, it is frowned upon by many among the socially conservative nation of around six million people, and event organisers decided against holding a parade as is common at global pride events.

Instead around 100 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people gathered on a US embassy sports field in the capital Vientiane to watch performances relating to their marginalised position in society and sip beers provided by the capital’s handful of gay-friendly bars.

Organised by the embassy and local activists, the June 25 “Proud to be Us!” event also drew a senior government health representative, the US embassy said – a positive sign in one of the world’s few remaining communist countries.

“I think everyone involved realised that this event was just a first step, so there was no big agenda or set of specific issues we wanted to focus on,” Mike Pryor, the US embassy’s deputy public affairs officer, told AFP from Vientiane.

“The goal was to spread the message that LGBT people are valued and loved, and regardless of sexual orientation everyone should be treated with dignity and respect and be allowed to contribute fully to society,” he said.

Although they are rarely victims of violence, gay and transgender people in Laos face widespread discrimination and find it hard to find work in government or other high status sectors, leaving many in poorly paid jobs and the sex industry.

The US wants gay rights to be recognised as basic human rights, Pryor said, adding that the issue is high on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s agenda.

Laos is a land-locked mountainous nation where a bloody civil war ended in 1975, thrusting a communist government to power that has kept strict control over the country despite taking some steps towards economic liberalisation.

Homosexuality is widely accepted over the border in Thailand, although it is still taboo in neighbouring Myanmar which held its first gay pride event in May.

Written by Kham

28/06/2012 at 7:19 pm

Myanmar, Laos hold talks on building Mekong Bridge

YANGON, March 17 (Xinhua) — Myanmar and Laos have held talks on building Mekong River-crossing Bridge, which will improve the efficiency of commodity flow between the two countries, official media reported Saturday.

The talks took place between Myanmar delegation, led by Minister of Construction U Khin Maung Myint, and visiting Lao delegation, headed by Minister of Public Works and Transport Sommad Pholsena in Nay Pyi Taw Friday, said the New Light of Myanmar.

Myanmar and Laos had sought the possibility of constructing the friendship bridge across the Mekong River in order to facilitate and enhance road connectivity between the two countries on the occasion of a visit to Myanmar of Lao Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong in July 2011.

To promote security in the Mekong River, both sides agreed to enhance cooperation on safeguarding the navigation in the Mekong River, assuring to prevent undesirable incidents from taking place in the future along the Mekong River through timely and effective exchange of information between the security forces of the two countries.

On the same day, Myanmar President U Thein Sein met with Pholsena in the capital and their discussions focused on further deepening the amity, cooperation in construction projects and increased implementation of regional transport contributory works, the report said.

Meanwhile, U Thein Sein is due to pay a state visit to Laos next week as part of his three-country tours — Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos at the invitation of Lao President Choummaly Sayasone.

US welcomes delay on Laos dam…US damn the damp Laos

9 December 2011, The BKKPost

The United States welcomed on Thursday a delay by Southeast Asian nations on approving a controversial hydropower dam in Laos, voicing fear about the environmental effects for the Mekong River.

Laos failed at a meeting to win approval from Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam to go ahead with the $3.8 billion Xayaburi dam, which activists say could spell disaster for the roughly 60 million people who depend on the waterway.
During a meeting with Mekong nations in July, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton “that there’s a very serious question about this new dam and possible environmental ramifications,” her spokesman Mark Toner said.
“So we view it as a positive sign that they’re delaying looking at it,” Toner told reporters in Washington.
Senator Jim Webb, who heads the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on East Asia and has been an outspoken critic of the dam, called the delay “an important step toward responsible policy.”
“The United States and the global community have a strategic and moral obligation to preserve the health and well-being of the people who depend on the Mekong River for their livelihoods and way of life,” Webb said in a statement.
The Mekong nations, at their meeting Thursday in Cambodia, called for further study on sustainable development and the potential effects of the project, which would be the first of 11 dams on the mainstream lower Mekong.
Cambodia and Vietnam fear the effects of the 1,260 megawatt Xayaburi dam on their farming and fishing industries. Thailand, however, has been more enthusiastic and has agreed to buy 95 percent of the electricity from the dam.
President Barack Obama’s administration launched the Lower Mekong Initiative in hopes of supporting the environment, health and education in the populous region, as part of a renewed effort to build relations with Southeast Asia.

Lao, Thai leaders vow to strengthen cooperation

VIENTIANE, Sept. 19 (Xinhua) — Laos and Thailand have agreed to consolidate cooperative relations between the two countries, Lao state-owned KPL News reported on Monday.

The consensus was reached during Thailand’s new Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s whirlwind visit to Laos on Sept. 16, before returning to Thailand.

During bilateral talks at the Lao government office in Vientiane, Yingluck reaffirmed her desire to strengthen trade cooperation, investment and tourism links between the two countries, and to continue to buy electricity from Laos as agreed by the two governments in previous years.

Lao Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong said the Lao government will continue to work closely with Thailand to address issues related to the illegal migration of Lao people to Thailand, and to survey and demarcate the two countries’ shared border.

Thongsing also expressed appreciation to the Thai government and people for their kind assistance to Laos in the past, which has contributed considerably to the country’s socio-economic development and improvements to the living conditions of the Lao people.

Yingluck also used the occasion to present 2.5 billion baht ( around 75 million U.S. dollars) on behalf of the Thai government to assist Laos’ recent flood victims, and two million baht (around 6,000 U.S. dollars) to renovate secondary schools in Laos’ eastern province of Houaphan in order to boost human resource development.

Thongsing invited Yingluck to attend the Ninth Asia-Europe Meeting and the Fifth Ayeyawady-chao Phraya-Mekong Economic Cooperation Strategy Meeting, which will both be hosted by Laos next year.

On the same day, Yingluck visited Laos’ President Choummaly Sayasone and President of the Lao National Assembly Pany Yathortou.

Thailand is one of the major foreign investors in Laos, having invested in 276 projects worth 2.68 billion U.S. dollars over the past decade, according to the state-owned Vientiane Times.

Bilateral trade between Laos and Thailand reached 2.1 billion U. S. dollars in 2009, which rose to 2.8 billion U.S. dollars in 2010.

Yingluck’s one-day visit to Laos came at the invitation of Thongsing and was the fourth stop on her tour to Southeast Asian nations after being elected as the first Thai female Prime Minister in July.

Lao People’s Revolutionary Youth Union pledges to serve the nation

VIENTIANE, Aug. 25 (Xinhua) — The Sixth National Congress of the Lao People’s Revolutionary Youth Union (LPRYU) ended in Laos’ capital of Vientiane on Aug. 24, vowing to continue the revolutionary mission of the ruling Lao People’s Revolutionary Party (LPRP) and work in the interests of the nation, local media reports said on Thursday.

The two-day congress also elected the sixth LPRYU Central Committee which consisted of 45 members and the Secretariat of nine members. Vilayvong Bouddakham was elected as LPRYU Secretary General, Sonthanou Thammavong and Khampha Phimmasone as deputy secretary generals, and Khampha as LPRYU Inspection Committee Chairman.

Newly elected LPRYU Secretary General Vilayvong Bouddakham was quoted by the state-owned Vientiane Times as saying that “the LPRYU will be a reliable strength for the Party and the nation by supplying young potential and representing the core rights and interests of Lao youths and young people.”

With more than 467,000 members working for the Lao government and private organizations throughout the country, the LPRYU is aiming to promote youths to be patriots endowed with knowledge and ability, progressive vision, creativity, eagerness to learn, leadership abilities and skills in technology, production and business.

The political report of the previous LPRYU Committee highlighted the achievements in implementing the Eighth Party resolution and the Fifth resolution of the union, also indicating some areas of deficiency for the union to improve on, particularly in ideological training.

The congress, which opened on Aug. 23, resolved to strengthen political ideological education and training, and ensure it reaches more than 60 percent of young people nationwide every year over the next five years. It also aimed to improve capacity building for LPRYU organizations at all levels, expand union membership to cover 30 percent of all young people throughout the nation, and 85 percent for junior members.

The union also plans to build model units under the LPRP’s ” four breakthrough approaches” to raise the spirit of competition among union members to do their best for the nation, while increasing unit membership to 50 percent of total members.

To implement its plans, the LPRYU has formulated six priority projects, which are the establishment of model youth professional groups, vocational training for rural youths, talent and creativity promotion, general knowledge and political training for non-schooling youths, youth federation establishment, and youth development funds.

Speaking on the first day of the congress, Choummaly Sayasone, the Secretary General of LPRP and Lao President, call on the LPRYU to pay more attentions to resolve behavior relating to wasteful goodwill, behavior contradicting national culture and tradition, and conducts that damage social order.

Representatives from the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party, government ministries, agencies and mass organisations joined 531 Lao youth delegates at the congress.

The LPRYU, the youth wing of the LPRP, originated in 1955 as the Youth Combatant Association, dedicated to mobilize young people throughout the country with a view to contribute to national development.

Vietnamese, Lao top legislators hold talks in Hanoi

HANOI, Aug. 25 (Xinhua) — Vietnamese National Assembly (NA) Chairman Nguyen Sinh Hung held talks here on Thursday with Lao National Assembly President Pany Yathotu during the latter’s visit to Vietnam.

Both sides informed each other of their NA activities and discussed measures to develop relations between the two parties and assemblies, as well as regional and international issues of mutual concern.

Hung warmly welcomed Yathotu’s visit, saying it manifested vividly the Vietnam-Laos special relationship fostered over the years.

The Vietnamese top legislator congratulated success of the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party’s 9th Congress and the elections of Lao 7th National Assembly.

Speaking of the recent visits to Vietnam by Lao President Chummaly Sayasone, and to Laos by Vietnamese Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong, Hung said that the exchange of visits by the two countries’ high-ranking leaders would contribute to consolidating both sides’ solidarity and developing the Vietnam- Laos special relationship to a higher level, and preparing for the 50th celebration of their diplomatic relations in 2012.

Hung also highly appreciated efforts made by both assemblies through bilateral and multilateral cooperative activities, saying the friendship between the two governments, assemblies and peoples is an invaluable asset that should be well preserved.

Yathotu congratulated Hung to be elected as the top legislator of the Vietnamese assembly, saying she believed under his leadership relationship between the Vietnamese and Lao assemblies would be further developed.

To develop the special relations between the two states and assemblies of Vietnam and Laos, the two sides should promote their coordination, especially in joint supervision of investment projects to ensure high efficiency, Yathotu said.

At the invitation of Vietnamese NA Chairman Nguyen Sinh Hung, Pany Yathotu led a Lao national assembly delegation to visit Vietnam, on Aug. 24-27.