Helvetas director forced to leave Laos
Laos has expelled the director of the Swiss non-governmental organisation Helvetas, accusing her of criticising the government in a letter to donors in which she criticised the one-party regime for stifling public debate and making work for aid groups difficult.
Helvetas to stay
The Laos foreign ministry’s decision was explained to Helvetas’ executive director in Zurich in a written notice, stating Gindroz’ letter had “demonstrated her explicit rejection of the Lao PDR’s Constitution and law, particularly its political system.”
However Helvetas is allowed to pursue its work and has been asked to send a new country director.
The NGO has been running an agricultural advisory service in Laos since 2001. It also helps promote organic farming, marketing farmers’ produce and preserving traditional agricultural practices.
Helvetas spokesman Herfeldt said the organisation would maintain its programme, which operates on an annual budget of SFr3.4 million ($3.6 million).
He added that the expulsion is unusual and that Helvetas had asked for further explanations with the support of the Swiss government. The Swiss ambassador in Thailand, who is also responsible for Laos, has made contact with the Lao authorities.
Laos is one of the planet’s least developed nations. According to Helvetas, it is predominantly rural and one third of the population still lives in poverty despite slow moves from the government to develop a “social” market economy.
The nation is also one of Switzerland’s biggest recipients for development aid in Southeast Asia. Early last month, the then-president Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf and Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter signed a cooperation agreement with the Lao government.
Swiss aid is expected to increase from SFr14.5 million to SFr21 million by 2016.
swissinfo.ch and agencies