Archive for October 28th, 2011

October 28, 2011

US bolsters UXO clearance in Xieng Khuang, Khammuan

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The Mines Advisory Group (MAG) Laos and the United States Department of State’s Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement are continuing their history of successful partnership in Xieng Khuang and Khammuan provinces with a new 12 month unexploded ordnance (UXO) clearance project worth US$1.4 million.

Mr Phoukhieo Chanthasomboun ( left ) and Mr David Horrocks shake hands after signing the MOU.

A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the National Regulatory Authority (NRA) and MAG Laos was signed yesterday in Vientiane.

NRA Director Mr Phoukhieo Chanthasomboun and MAG Country Director Mr David Horrocks jointly signed the document witnessed by US Ambassador to Laos Ms Karen Stewart and officials from the two provinces and MAG.

The project will be carried out in Phaxay, Khoun, Thathom and Nonghaet districts of Xieng Khuang province, as well as Ghommalath, Mahaxay and Bualapha districts of Khammuan province, focusing on conducting a survey for prioritisation of UXO clearance to support socio-economic development activities.

The project has built upon the success of previous projects funded by the Department of State’s Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement. Partnerships with numerous development organisations will enable MAG Laos to ensure that these clearance outputs become development outcomes.

MAG is a British non-government organisation which started operations in Laos in 1994. MAG operations in Laos are highly recognised by the Lao government.

“Since the beginning of its operations in the country, MAG Laos has been working hard to liaise with donors for funding to support its UXO clearance activities which benefit local communities, reduce injuries and deaths from dangerous UXO. In the same way UXO clearance enables local communities to access more safe land,” said Mr Phoukieo at the signing ceremony.

Since 1996, funding from the US government to support UXO clearance in Laos has reached US$30 million.

Mr Phoukhieo, represen-ting the NRA and the Lao government, expressed gratitude and thanks to the US government for its support of socio-economic development in Laos.

In his remarks at the ceremony, Mr Horrocks said extensive UXO spread across a wide swathe of the country not only poses a risk to people carrying out normal activities such as farming, but also prevents or delays development activities and indeed adds to their cost.

Through the work of five UXO clearance teams, significant amounts of contaminated land will be cleared of UXO, he said, adding that, ultimately, the project will contribute to the Lao government’s poverty eradication strategy and Millennium Development Goal No. 9.

Ms Stewart expressed her hope that the MOU would help to ensure the continuation of vital clearance work and activities that will allow Lao children to attend school in a safe environment, return land to communities for agriculture and other economic development, and allow construction of infrastructure such as better road access to healthcare facilities.

By Times Reporters
(Latest Update October 28, 2011)

October 28, 2011

New rules for dictatorship crimes in South America

By MICHAEL WARREN, Associated Press

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — A generation after dictatorships gave way to democracy in South America, Brazil and Uruguay are catching up to their neighbors in digging into long-buried crimes against humanity.

A “truth and reconciliation” commission to investigate four decades of human rights abuses passed Brazil’s Congress unanimously this week. On Thursday, Uruguay’s Congress revoked a military amnesty and classified dictatorship-era kidnappings, torture and killings as crimes against humanity.

“It indicates an enormous leap forward, away from the fear,” Argentine-Chilean playwright Ariel Dorfman said by telephone from London, where a revival is being staged of “Death and the Maiden,” his play about the failures of Latin American justice. “The past has been haunting Argentina, and Chile and Brazil and Uruguay for many years now, and unless you bury it well, it turns into a ghost, and you can’t kill a ghost.”

Brazil’s vote late Wednesday night represented a compromise between military leaders and human rights advocates after years of argument.

Uruguay’s lawmakers did the opposite hours later, breaking a deal made a quarter-century ago to protect both the right and the left as democracy was restored.

Rights advocates in both countries hope their governments will now reveal more about what really happened, just as in Argentina and Chile, where hundreds of dictatorship-era officials have been convicted of “dirty war” crimes.

The latest such convictions came Wednesday in Argentina, where a one-time navy secret agent known as the “Angel of Death” and 11 other former officials were sentenced to life in prison for kidnapping, torture and murders of detainees at the notorious Navy Mechanics School, where 5,000 people were held and only half survived.

Military dictatorships allied with the United States ruled much of South America in the 1970s. They combined forces in Operation Condor, a coordinated effort to crush the threat of armed revolution.

As each nation returned to democracy in the 1980s, still-powerful militaries forced them to make uncomfortable compromises — amnesties or rulings by pro-junta judges that delayed or denied prosecutions, or “truth” commissions whose ground rules left many unsatisfied.

Dorfman, whose long exile from Chile and Argentina began with the 1973 coup of Chilean Gen. Augusto Pinochet, has written many works about the difficulties of seeking justice long after authoritarian governments give way to democracies. Each country’s journey is incomplete, but he said Thursday was a day to celebrate.

“There’s only one road to hell but there are many roads to heaven,” Dorfman said. “All of these Operation Condor countries that collaborated and were such allies in this fight against the democratic forces of their societies, they are all coming to separate ways of dealing with that past. It’s very heartening.”

Brazil’s government recently tallied 475 people killed or disappeared by combatants on the right and left during its 1964-1985 dictatorship, but it has never fully investigated or punished those responsible.

The compromise reconciliation panel gives both sides plenty to worry about.

The commission will have subpoena power, can demand any document it wants from the government and put witnesses under oath. But the country’s 1979 amnesty remains intact, so it won’t result in prosecutions. It’s not clear what will happen to people who refuse to talk. And in a concession to Brazil’s military, it must look at any rights crimes from 1946 to 1988, the beginning of Brazil’s current democracy.

“This commission is extremely limited — it’s almost perverse. There is no infrastructure, not enough people, and not enough time to research and investigate everything that happened,” said Cecilia Coimbra, who was tortured by Brazil’s military. “History will be told in a limited way.”

Coimbra founded the anti-torture group Tortura Nunca Mais and lobbied against a truth commission without the power to impose punishment.

But Brazil’s human rights minister, Maria do Rosario Nunes, said the commission represents a “commitment by the Brazilian state to never again use coercion and violence as a tool of politics in our country.”

It will begin its work as soon as President Dilma Roussef names its seven members.

Argentina’s experience shows such commissions alone aren’t enough, said Estela de Carlotto, leader of the activist group Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo.

“Here, reconciliation? Forget it,” Carlotto said in an interview last year. “Here there has to be truth and justice. Why? Because first of all, they didn’t ask for forgiveness. Here, they said they did the right thing and would do it again.”

Argentina’s “Never Again” commission, led by writer Ernesto Sabato, began an official tally that eventually numbered 13,000 victims of the dictatorship — evidence of deaths and disappearances powerful enough to enable the fragile democracy to try and convict former junta leaders in civilian courts.

Lower-ranking officers then rebelled, forcing amnesties that held for two decades. Only after Argentina’s Congress and Supreme Court overturned them could evidence gathered a generation earlier be prepared for the many trials currently under way.

To date, 262 people have been convicted of crimes against humanity, Argentine prosecutors said Thursday. The latest was former navy spy Alfredo Astiz, who infiltrated and betrayed a group of mothers seeking their missing children. He also was convicted of kidnapping, torturing and murdering two French nuns and a journalist.

“Now we have trials all over the country because the laws of impunity fell and we’re operating with complete justice,” Carlotto said. “At times it’s bad justice, or weak or deceitful, or good. But it’s justice, and you can appeal it and bring forward your testimony and evidence.”

A blanket amnesty declared by Chile’s dictatorship in 1978 remains in force, preventing most prosecutions involving the bloodiest period of the 1973-1990 military rule. Prosecutors have tried hundreds of former military and police officials, nevertheless. They argue that a crime is still being committed as long as a victim hasn’t been found and that amnesties can be applied only at the conclusion of the judicial process, not beforehand.

Uruguay’s twin amnesties protecting former military members and leftist guerrillas were twice upheld in national referendums. But the governing Broad Front coalition finally found enough votes in Congress to overturn the military amnesty, and President Jose Mujica is expected to sign the law before Nov. 1, when a statute of limitations would have eliminated the possibility of new prosecutions.

Long-dormant cases will be opened against former military and police officials suspected in the kidnappings and killings of about 30 leftists during Uruguay’s 1973-1985 dictatorship.

The backlash has already begun. Some retired military leaders said they will ask for prosecutions of about 30 former Tupamaro guerrillas as well. While Mujica and most other ex-rebels served long prison sentences before democracy’s return, others remained free.


Associated Press writers Raul O. Garces in Uruguay, Marco Sibaja and Juliana Barbassa in Brazil and Debora Rey in Argentina contributed to this report.

Michael Warren is at

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October 28, 2011

Laos, Switzerland back preservation of Mekong basin

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Phaisythong Chandara
Vientiane Times
Publication Date : 27-10-2011

Laos‘ Mekong River Commission (MRC) and the government of Switzerland Wednesday signed a new agreement which contributes financial support towards basin development and environmental project activities in the Lower Mekong Basin.

Through the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), Switzerland committed over US$3 million (3.45 million Swiss francs) in funding towards the MRC’s Basin Development Plan Programme and also for its Environment Programme.

The agreement was signed in Vientiane between the Officer-In-Charge of the MRC Secretariat Tran Duc Cuong and the SDC’s Regional Director Ruth Huber.

The funding will span a two-year period from November 2011 to December 2013.

The development arm of Switzerland‘s government is now actively involved in MRC projects again, after a six year absence.

“This renewed support from Switzerland to the MRC expresses the importance of trans-boundary water management in the Mekong basin and our recognition of the efforts of the MRC and its member countries to establish a fully integrated, nationally owned and financed response to the challenge of sustainable and integrated water management,” Huber said.

Cuong said this timely contribution from Switzerland will help strengthen the MRC’s efforts to bring about improved integrated-river basin management at a time when the Lower Mekong Basin is experiencing rapid development and change.

Today the basin is facing a wide range of trans-boundary and regional challenges. Some of these challenges are changing climate patterns, increasing urbanisation and heightened interest in development on the Mekong mainstream.

The MRC continues to work closely with the governments of the four MRC member countries–Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam–to tackle these concerns by providing basin-wide and integrated approaches to their management and development of water resources.

Additionally, the countries’ adoption of the Integrated Water Resource Management-based Basin Development Strategy earlier this year was an important milestone in the history of the cooperation.

“Our highly diverse environment in the region also faces similar development pressures, and Switzerland‘s latest funding for the MRC Environment Programme is a timely response,” Cuong added.

The MRC has supported cooperation among the member countries to secure a balance between economic development, environmental protection and social sustainability within the region.

The programme’s aim is to ensure that basin management and development is guided by up to date environmental and social knowledge. It also strives for more efficient environmental management cooperation.

This agreement between the SDC and MRC yesterday is appreciated during this challenging period, according to the MRC.

The SDC is Switzerland‘s International Cooperation agency, operating within the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs.

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