Archive for ‘Laos’

August 28, 2014

Bouncing down: The back roads of history (The Ho Chi Minh Trail)

Bouncing down: The back roads of history

Posted On Aug 25, 2014
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Antonia Bolingbroke-Kent rides the Ho Chi Minh Trail on a 1989 pink Honda cub

The Ho Chi Minh Trail, for those of you who’ve forgotten, was a transport network running from North Vietnam to South Vietnam, via Laos and Cambodia. Originally made up of primitive footpaths used for local trade, by the time of the Vietnam War the Trail was used to supply weapons, fuel and men in vast quantities to fight the Americans. According to the US government, the Trail was “one of the great achievements of military engineering of the 20th century”.

It also caused a great deal of trouble for both Laos and Cambodia: Laos was hit by an average of one B-52 bomb load every eight minutes, 24 hours a day, between 1964 and 1973. US fighters dropped more bombs on Laos than were dropped by all sides during the whole of the Second World War. And in Cambodia, American bombing provided a huge impetus for the rise of the Khmer Rouge.
The scale of the Trail was breathtaking. Covering more than 2,000 kilometres, from Sihanoukville in the south and Hanoi in the north, through thick jungle and over the 2,500-metre Truong Son mountain range in Laos, much of it was hidden from the bombers by tied-together tree canopies and trellises. The Americans used increasingly sophisticated weaponry to try to disrupt the Trail, including dousing it with Agent Orange, but all to no avail.

Agent Orange, a viciously unpleasant herbicide and defoliant, was used to strip the ground of plant cover, so the North Vietnamese would have nowhere to hide. According to the Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 4.8 million people were exposed to the chemical, leaving 400,000 dead and 500,000 children born with birth defects. And reports suggest that at the end of the war, 80 million bombs had fallen on the three countries but not exploded, leaving an appalling and deadly legacy.

So, all in all, the Trail was a hugely important hinge for modern Southeast Asian history. It has been traversed before by modern travel writers, on foot and on motorbike: a guy called Chris Hunt rode the length of the Trail on a Russian-made Minsk 125cc in 1995. To top that, British-born Antonia Bolingbroke-Kent decided to make the journey on a bubblegum-pink 1989 Honda C-90 stepthru moped, because “doing it on a proper dirt bike seemed too easy”. She had to have the engine rebuilt four times during the trip, so she clearly found the difficulties she was looking for.

Pink vehicles seem to be something of a motif for Bolingbroke-Kent; previously she had driven a pink tuk tuk from Bangkok to Brighton. On the Trail, at a stately 20mph, she fords rivers, climbs mountains and braves the heat and dust and loneliness and potential tiger attacks, staying in grubby guesthouses, swatting insects and drinking warm Pepsi. If her writing is sometimes a little flat, her knowledge of the history of the Trail, as well as her views on unexploded ordnance and the effects now of the logging and deforestation along the way, are invaluable.
As economic progress turns the Ho Chi Minh Trail into well-paved routes for shipping wood abroad for garden furniture, the Trail itself is disappearing; this is a decent book on a fascinating subject.

August 11, 2014

Laos Freezes Salary Increase For Civil Servants

Laos Freezes Salary Increase For Civil Servants


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Delegates listen to speeches during the the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party’s national congress in Vientiane, in a file photo.  AFP

The cash-strapped government in Laos has imposed a freeze on salary increases for civil servants during the new fiscal year beginning October, reports say, as the country reels from shrinking revenues.

Some government workers said their morale has been dampened by the state media’s announcement of the freeze on July 31.

A government decree had assured the more than 150,000 civil servants of salary increases for three consecutive years beginning from the 2012-2013 fiscal year.

The salary increase could not go ahead due to current “budget tensions,” the Vientiane Times reported.

The government has to exercise cautious spending and cut unnecessary expenditure, it said.

Senior Ministry of Finance official Bounzoum Sisavath confirmed the freeze in the report, which came following the approval by the National Assembly, the country’s parliament, of a trimmed down budget for the next fiscal year.

Civil servants received a salary increase and a monthly living allowance of 760,000 kip (U.S. $94) in 2012-2013.

The monthly allowance, which is much larger than the salary increase, was suspended this fiscal year.

Loss of incentive

One state employee who works closely with employees in the provinces said the salary freeze especially dampens the motivation of workers serving in remote areas.

The employees are already facing various constraints in the rural areas and had been expecting the salary increase as an incentive, he said.

“They feel very discouraged,” he said. “Some do not want to work and want to come back or be transferred out.”

“They say working in remote areas is already a sacrifice. When the government  suspends the salary increase, the only incentive is gone.”

Laos, which has more than six million people, currently has approximately 156,000 civil servants.

The Lao government’s financial difficulties were a key focus in the recent National Assembly session.

Lack of transparency

According to an official report, in the first half of the current fiscal year, the government collected just over 9.221 trillion kip (U.S. $1.1 billion), or 36.5 percent of the annual plan, the Vientiane Times reported.

According to Minister of Finance Lien Thikeo, budgetary woes stemmed largely from lack of transparency by finance officials, who help companies avoid their tax obligations, the report said.

Under questioning at the National Assembly, he described how some finance officials would help to manipulate the books of companies to show low or no profits, enabling them to evade taxes.

Poor revenue collection is due to lack of strong enforcement mechanisms to ensure businesses and enterprises pay taxes.

Lien Thikeo believes that updating revenue collection with modern technology can help minimize the problem of tax fraud.

The ministry has begun a pilot program to use electronic systems, such as smart cards, at border checkpoints in Vientiane, as well as the provinces of Luang Namtha, Champassak and Bokeo, according to the Times.

Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Somnet Inthapannha. Written in English by Di Hoa Le.


August 7, 2014

ประวัติศาสตร์ ระหว่างไทย และลาว ที่หลายคนไม่เคยทราบมาก่อน

ประวัติศาสตร์ลาว เหตุการณ์สำคัญลาวในอดีต ความเป็นมาของเมืองลาว

ข้อมูลท่ิองเที่ยวประเทศลาว. ประวัติศาสตร์ลาว เหตุการณ์สำคัญลาวในอดีต ความเป็นมาของเมืองลาว ลาวเป็นประเทศหนึ่งที่สืบเชื้อสายบรรพบุรุษเดียวกับชาวไทย ศ.1896 พระเจ้าฟ้างุ้มทรงทำสงครามตีเอานครเวียงจันทน์หลวงพระบาง หัวเมืองพวนทั้งหมด 



ASEAN STORY “ตามรอยเจ้าอนุวงศ์ 1″

ASEAN STORY “ตามรอยเจ้าอนุวงศ์ 2″


August 1, 2014

Laos struggles to lower maternal mortality

Laos struggles to lower maternal mortality

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Steve Finch, Vientiane, Laos. July 30, 2014
Laos struggles to lower maternal mortality
The number midwives and skilled birth attendants in Laos is expected to nearly double, to 1500, by 2015, owing to training support from the UN Population Fund.

When 32-year-old Bouavanh Songmala was growing up in a remote village in Laos, death during child birth was all too common. UN agencies estimated there were 1215 such deaths per 100 000 live births in 1990. At the time, Laos had few midwives; none had been trained between 1987 and 2010, mainly due to lack of funds.

Bouavanh recently qualified as a male midwife in this southeast Asian nation, joining the ranks of 800 midwives and skilled birth attendants. Despite this improvement, more than half of women still lack supervised births. And Laos’ maternal mortality rate remains among the worst outside of Africa. UN agencies and the Ministry of Health estimate there are still between 220 and 370 deaths per 100 000 live births. Laos lags behind other southeast Asian countries, such as Vietnam, which has a maternal mortality rate of 49 deaths per 100 000 births. Canada’s rate is 11 per 100 000.

Undeniably, Laos has made progress. WHO said in May that Laos was one of 11 countries that has achieved a 75% reduction in maternal mortality since 2000. However, there is great uncertainty as to accuracy of statistics, because birth and death registers are not kept, and, according to a May 2014 article in The Lancet, determining what constitutes a maternal death is not straightforward.

Laos is aiming to achieve the United Nations Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 5:  a 5.5% annual rate of reduction in maternal deaths and a three-quarters drop on 1990 levels. But UN agencies say Laos’ target of 260 deaths per 100 000 live births by 2015 is “unlikely,” a conclusion shared by a study published  in December.

Part of the reason for this pessimism is unreliable numbers and a myriad factors affecting progress. The increase in midwives and skilled birth attendants has certainly helped; skilled attendants are now present at 41.5% of births and more than half of pregnant Laotian women receive skilled antenatal care at least once, says the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), which is helping to train these workers. It expects the number of personnel to nearly double, to 1500, next year. Continued investment and support for midwives will be crucial in helping Laos escape decades of high maternal death rates, says Siriphone Sally Sakulku, UNFPA’s reproductive health program coordinator in the Laos capital of Vientiane. “Laos needs midwives more than ever.”

Birth spacing and improved socioeconomics also seem to play a role in improved maternal mortality. Fertility has fallen from six to three births per woman since 1990, however health workers in the capital of Vientiane say access to contraception hasn’t improved substantially.

UN agencies suggest Laos’ economic growth rate of around 8% in recent years — among the highest in the world — and attendant rising incomes have also helped to reduce maternal deaths.

On the other hand, only 3.7% of deliveries are by Cesarean section and abortion remains illegal.

In addition, accessing people in remote areas is hugely problematic, particularly during the monsoon when roads are frequently washed out.

Australia’s Burnet Institute, which works in eastern Laos, says medical facilities are lacking and medical professionals often refuse to work in remote areas. Christi Lane-Barlow, Burnet’s country representative, says “The level of disparity in terms of what people can access is really, really severe.”



July 30, 2014

Chinese gold miner flees Laos

Chinese gold miner flees Laos

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VIENTIANE —A Chinese firm suspected of illegally mining gold along the Mekong River in Laos has fled the country, state media reported Tuesday.

The unnamed company had permission to extract sand and gravel but was instead mining gold in Bokeo province in northern Laos, the Minister of Energy and Mines Soulivong Daravong told a press conference Friday, according to the Vientiane Times.

The authorities were alerted to the company’s activities by a member of the public who called a hotline concerned at the environmental effects of chemicals used to extract the gold.

The company threatened to detain villagers who approached the area where the mining was taking place, the caller reportedly said. The call prompted the provincial Public Works and Transport Department to order the firm to stop its illegal work.

“After learning about this (the warning), the firm feared that the government would fine them so they escaped back to their country (China),” the minister said.


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