Archive for ‘Laos’

November 8, 2014

Laos’ Shrinking Bear Population Threatened by Booming Bile Business

Laos’ Shrinking Bear Population Threatened by Booming Bile Business

Wild bears are trapped and kept in small cages where their gallbladders are drained to make products for the Asian market.

November 07, 2014

John R. Platt covers the environment, technology, philanthropy, and more for Scientific American, Conservation, Lion, and other publications.

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(Photo: Reuters)

The number of bears being trapped and then tapped for the bile in their gallbladders has tripled in Laos in recent years, according to a new study published in the journal Oryx.

Like operators of similar “farms” in China, Vietnam, and South Korea, the Laotians lock bears in small, rusty cages where their gallbladders are repeatedly tapped—sometimes up to three times a day—and drained of their bile. The bile is then sold as a component of traditional Asian medicine or even as an ingredient in products as wide-ranging as wine and shampoo.

The bears in these facilities are kept in horrendous conditions, according to one of the study’s authors, Chris Shepherd, the regional director for Southeast Asia for TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network. “Many are malnourished, dehydrated, and in extremely poor health,” he said.

The study—conducted by undercover operatives posing as tourists—found that the number of bears in Laotian bile-extraction facilities increased from 40 in 2008 to 122 in 2012. Most if not all of them appear to have been illegally trapped in the wild, where their populations are in decline. Shepherd said bears in extraction facilities suffer high mortality rates, meaning even more wild bears need to be captured to replace those that die.

Ownership of wild bears is illegal in Laos, as is bear hunting and capture, but the facilities operate without any apparent fear of prosecution. In fact, government sources and official registration documents pointed the investigators toward the facilities they visited. “Some of the farms allow tourists in to see the operations, further illustrating the lack of fear of enforcement efforts and the law,” Shepherd said.

Many of the facilities apparently try to skirt the law against wild bear ownership by saying their animals are captive-bred.

Freedom! 130 Bears to Be Rescued From Chinese Bile Farm

Shepherd discounted that claim. “In any of the farms I have visited—and in any others I have heard of, for that matter—the bears are kept separately in cages, with no opportunity to breed,” he said, noting that even if the animals could interact with one another, they are probably too ill to mate and reproduce. Trapping wild bears, meanwhile, is cheap and “pretty much risk-free,” Shepherd said.

The scale of Laotian bile farms pales in comparison with those in other countries—China alone keeps up to 10,000 bears in extraction facilities—but the study found that they still have an impact. The authors wrote that bear bile products are advertised in Laos on posters, on the radio, and in newspaper articles that promote consumer demand. That has led to rising bile product prices.

There’s a further potential consequence for wild bears. According to the study, some consumers prefer bile that has been extracted from bears killed in the wild, believing it is either more potent or more valuable. During the two-year investigation, the authors observed an increase in the price for wild bile corresponding with the rising availability of farmed bile.

The study calls for these Laotian extraction facilities to be closed and for increased efforts to stop the illegal cross-border bile trade, which is banned under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.

“Only when conservation organizations and enforcement agencies start taking this issue seriously, and jointly tackle the illegal trade, will we see the decline in wild bear populations come to an end,” Shepherd said.

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November 1, 2014

Laos Plans to Allow Foreigners to Purchase Land in Controversial Move

Laos Plans to Allow Foreigners to Purchase Land in Controversial Move


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A vehicle drives past an advertisement in Vientiane for a Vietnamese company with a rubber concession in Laos, in a file photo.  RFA.

Laos is to allow foreign investors to purchase land under a proposed law which some groups say would discriminate against locals and threaten national sovereignty.

The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment is drafting an amendment to a land law allowing foreigners to purchase land for investments of at least U.S. $500,000 in the country, a high-ranking ministry official told RFA’s Lao Service.

The official said the move is aimed at attracting foreign investments to fuel the impoverished economy.

“In the draft we have added [a clause about] foreign investors [purchasing land] to promote investment, but the next step is to bring the draft for discussion at the government meeting for approval and consider adding additional recommendations,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

A committee under the ministry in charge of national land policy “agrees that we should include the right to purchase land for foreigners,” he said. “We are doing this in the highest interest of the public.”

Currently, foreign investors in Laos—the majority of whom are from China or Vietnam—are either granted land leases or concessions from the government for up to 99 years, but existing law includes no provisions to purchase land, which is all state-owned in the communist nation.

It was unclear whether the proposed amendment includes limitations on the amount of land that foreign investors can purchase or guidelines for the cost of the property.

According to the ministry official, the draft amendment will likely be submitted for review at a government meeting of various ministries by the end of November.  If the draft is approved, it must be endorsed by the National Assembly, or parliament, before it can be signed into law.

Allowing foreigners to purchase land would further entice them to invest in Laos, the official said, adding that the business they bring to the country would help to benefit the local economy.

Laos faces persistent fiscal difficulties that have forced the government to delay public infrastructure projects and cancel a cost-of-living allowance for the civil service.

Opposition to proposal

The coordinator of a communal land rights network told RFA that he was against the proposal to allow foreign investors to purchase land, saying the government should instead focus on stronger legislation to ensure that leases and concessions to foreigners do not encroach on the land of villagers.

“I don’t agree with allowing foreigners to buy land, but I do not have any objections to leases and concessions as long as they don’t affect villagers’ property,” he said, adding that selling off land to foreign interests would “turn parts of Laos into other countries.”

The coordinator, who asked not to provide his name, said that his organization works to lessen the influence of capitalism in Laos in the interest of “national liberalization and land ownership,” suggesting that the government is sacrificing sovereignty and the rights of villagers to generate income from foreign investments.

His concerns were echoed by one resident of the capital Vientiane, who told RFA that the proposed change was akin to “putting Lao territory up for sale.”

The sources also questioned why the government would grant foreign investors the right to purchase land when it does not provide the same privileges to its own citizens.

Laotians are granted the right to occupy land through the state. Some of them can sell the right to use their land if their family has inhabited it for generations.

However, citizens cannot officially own property, and the government reserves the right to reclaim land when this is deemed to be in the public interest, such as for national development projects.

Cost of concessions

So far, more than 2,600 land lease and concession agreements have been signed with investors covering 1.1 million hectares (2.7 million acres), or roughly five percent of the country, according to a report published by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment in January last year.

The report said that one out of five villages in Laos is affected by the investments, which exceed the area of the country used for wet rice production.

Most concessions in the country are granted for tree plantations and mining operations, and rights groups say the industries negatively impact local communities which rely on land, forests, and water for their livelihoods and food security. They have also led to forced evictions and compensation disputes.

Due to a growing number of land conflicts, the government of Laos had temporarily suspended the granting of concessions since 2012 after drafting an amendment to the country’s land law a year earlier.

Initially, the government called for recommendations to the draft from civil society organizations, which have proposed that villagers be given the right to participate or oppose land concessions for investment projects in their communities, including an option to receive compensation for loss of their land and farms at market value.

A version of the draft amendment made it to the National Assembly for review in mid-2013, but was rejected by the parliament and returned to the ministry for further changes.

Reported by Ounkeo Souksavanh for RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Ounkeo Souksavanh. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

November 1, 2014

World Bank trains Laos hydropower operator in environmental, social management



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Laos Map

The World Bank’s International Finance Corp. (IFC) is helping train Laos’ largest hydropower operator, EDL-Generation Public Co., to improve its management of environmental and social risks.

IFC and EDL-GEN conducted five days of training in October for 25 professionals from the company and from its major shareholder, Electricite du Laos (EDL). Participants were trained in the business case for sustainability and in IFC’s Performance Standards, a benchmark of environmental and social standards guiding companies on how to mitigate risks and do business sustainably.

EDL-GEN was established in 2010 as the first public company in Laos. It has seven hydropower projects under way in Laos, representing 387 MW. It sells the majority of its power to EDL, its state-owned parent company.

EDL-GEN has invested in four independent power producers in Laos, including a 60 percent stake in the 500-MW Theun Hinboun hydropower complex (including the expanded 440-MW Theun Hinboun project and the adjoining 60-MW Nam Gnouang project, a 25 percent stake in the 615-MW Nam Ngum 2 project, and the 100-MW Nam Lik 1 and 2 project.

EDL-GEN plans to expand its business by taking over EDL hydroelectric projects including 88-MW Huay (or Houay) Lamphan Yai, 130-MW Nam Khan 2, 95-MW Nam Khan 3, and 15-MW Nam Sana.

IFC’s training also provided the participants an opportunity to apply what they learned in practical field exercises at hydropower sites around Vientiane Province. For example, they created a checklist to determine whether a project complied with IFC’s Performance Standards.

“We are planning to develop a larger environmental and social team that will support the sustainable construction of hydropower plants and provide support to communities surrounding project sites,” Director Souksanh Phongphila of EDL-GEN’s Corporate Support and Administration Department said.

IFC last year recruited consultants to serve as stakeholder engagement/communications specialist for the hydropower and forestry sectors in Laos. It also announced it plans to work with the Laotian government in developing draft laws that would help govern hydroelectric development.

October 24, 2014

Vietnam Veterans of U.S. Secret Army in Laos Urge Congress to Act

Center for Public Policy Analysis

Vietnam Veterans of U.S. Secret Army in Laos Urge Congress to Act

Washington, October 24, 2014 03:45 PM

The Center for Public Policy Analysis (CPPA) and Lao- and Hmong-American leaders are meeting with key members of the U.S. Congress, and Senate and House offices on Capitol Hill, urging the passage of legislation to grant burial honors, and benefits, to veterans who served in the U.S. Secret Army in Laos during the Vietnam War.

Meetings are being held with the offices of Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Carl Levin (D-Michigan), Bernard Sanders (I-Vermont), Richard Burr (R-North Carolina), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island), Diane Feinstein (D-California), Barbara Boxer (D-California), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) and Al Franken (D-Minnesota), who support the bill, “The Hmong Veterans’ Service Recognition Act” (S. 200; S. 2337). In the House, Lao- and Hmong-American leaders are slated to meet with Congressmen Jim Costa (D), Devin Nunes (R), Paul Cook (R), and Jeff Denham (R) of California, the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, and others.

“The Lao- and Hmong-American veterans and their families seek to educate policymakers and Congress about the unique and historic role of the veterans in covert support of the U.S. Special Forces, CIA, and clandestine U.S. Air Force units in Laos during the Vietnam War,” said Philip Smith, Executive Director of the CPPA. “It is important to honor these extraordinary veterans with burial honors.”

Colonel Wangyee Vang, National President of the Lao Veterans of America Institute (LVAI) stated: “We are grateful for the support of over fifty members of Congress and appreciate their efforts to advance legislation to honor our veterans and their families with burial benefits.”

“The community in Anchorage, and across America, is requesting that the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, led by Chairman Sanders and Vice Chairman Burr, and Senators Begich and Murkowski, continue to work to pass our veterans bill,” said Pasert Lee, President of the Hmong Alaska Community, Inc.

“We are talking to our Senators, and Congress, about the sacrifices of Hmong veterans in assisting the United States to secretly combat the North Vietnamese Army’s invasion of the Kingdom of Laos during critical years of the Vietnam War,” commented Richard Xiong, Vice President of the LVAI.

“It is important that President Obama and the White House also remember and support our Lao Hmong veterans and this bill,” concluded Erik Xiong, Secretary of the LVAI.


Christy Her or Philip Smith

Center for Public Policy Analysis
Tele. (202)543-1444
October 18, 2014

Communist Vietnam’s Neo-Colonizing Policies Must Be Stopped to Prevent the Destabilization of Southeast Asia and the Continuing Human Rights Violations of the Indigenous Populations.


Communist Vietnam’s Neo-Colonizing Policies Must Be Stopped to Prevent the Destabilization of Southeast Asia and the Continuing Human Rights Violations of the Indigenous Populations.

Communist Vietnam’s policies and practices were observed to be the major source of destabilization of Southeast Asia, if allowed to stay the current course.

By PR Newswire

October 17, 2014 10:21 AM EDT

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PHILADELPHIA, Oct. 17, 2014 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — A Southeast Asia Conference was recently held in Washington, D.C., featuring diverse, local and international, speakers from Hawaii, Thailand and France as well as Laotians, Khmers, Montagnards and Americans with related expertise and experiences from academic institutions, business communities, and Law firm and past US government involvements. There were also screenings of interviews with Mr. Sovan Pen, the very first Prime Minister of Cambodia during the Vietnamese occupation and former prisoner in Hanoi on the Vietnamese government true objectives on Cambodia, and Dr. Mong Hay Lao on geopolitics of Southeast Asia. Vietnam neo-colonization of Cambodia and Laos had been further explored by the audience’s questions & answers session and open discussions. The conference participants were very actively engaged in drawing up the conference 14-point Resolutions, of which an unsigned copy is as follows:

Resolutions of the Southeast Asia Conference 2014
Washington, DC October 4 & 5, 2014

This document contains the resolutions of the Southeast Asia Conference 2014, organized by the Khmer People Network for Cambodia (KPNC) and Laotian Human Rights Council (LHRC). The conference was held in Washington, DC on October 4th through 5th, 2014 entitled “Vietnam’s Destabilization of Southeast Asia and Tragic Human Rights Violations.” The conference working group presents these resolutions to the US government for implementation. This is the work of civil society from Cambodian and Laotian Americans concerned for the stabilization and security of the people of Southeast Asia.  As Americans, we are concerned for US self-interests in the area and present these recommendations to our government holding in all seriousness the best interests of our beloved country the United States of America.

These are presented to the Foreign Relations Committees of both the Senate and the House with the hope that along with the administration, you will incorporate them into US policy. We hope that our government will work with civil society to improve our relations with the governments of Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam and to avoid more violence which has claimed the lives of Americans, Cambodians, Laotians and Vietnamese in the last 50 years.

The participants stand ready to dialog with our government and request that a commission be established to further that dialog and implement these resolutions. The resolutions will come alive as we work through this commission. Dialog is the way of Peace that replaces the current deafening silence. The dialog with civil society and implementation of its resolutions places the welfare of all the people involved in high esteem.

Resolutions presented to the US Government

We ask that the US government:

  1. For the sake of stability and security of the entire Southeast Asia region, put pressure on communist Vietnam to stop Crimea-like colonization of Laos and Cambodia. Urge the governments of Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam to terminate permanently the so-called “Special Lao-Vietnamese Friendship Treaty” of 1977 and to nullify the 2005 Supplementary Cambodia-Vietnam treaties.
  2. Deny communist Vietnam the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) membership until it makes dramatic improvements in its human rights practices, reforms its laws to meet international labor standards and demonstrates a clear commitment to the rule of law as per the July 29, 2014 letter to President Obama from 33 members of Congress.
  3. Call for the reconvening of the 1991 Paris Peace Conference on Cambodia and nullify all later agreements and treaties contrary to the spirit of the Paris Peace Agreements of 1991, especially those contrary to territorial integrity, national sovereignty, freedom from foreign interference, and the respect for human rights.
  4. Call for the reconvening of the 1973 Paris Peace Conference on Vietnam.
  5. Reinstate the arms embargo to Vietnam, until we can be assured that it is not being used for expansionist purposes and for the repression of civilians.
  6. Provide technical assistance to develop an independent and more accurate estimate of the numbers of Vietnamese immigrant population in Cambodia and Laos.
  7. Urge Vietnam to end the intrusion in Laos and Cambodia’s internal affairs.
  8. Place Cambodia and reinstate Vietnam as “countries of particular concern (CPC)” until they respect religious rights and human rights especially with regards to their indigenous people.
  9. Create a special commission on US policy and relations towards Cambodia and Laos.
  10. Call upon the US Government to treat and deal with Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam individually, not to lump all three together as Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam are distinct and independent states.
  11. The governments of Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam must open space for civil society, release all political prisoners, and abide by the international human rights covenants to which they are signatories.
  12. Pressure the Cambodian and Laotian governments to allow their people the rights to freedom of speech, press, and assembly.
  13. Urge the US government to reinforce the US Lacey Act of 2008, prohibiting the importation of illegal wildlife and logging.
  14. Stress mutual respect of freedom, independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity between Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam.



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