Archive for ‘Case Study’

December 11, 2013

Japan: Raise Concerns About Abducted Lao Activist

One Year On, Sombath Somphone Remains Forcibly Disappeared

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December 11, 2013

(Tokyo) – Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan should raise concerns about the enforced disappearance of a prominent civil society leader in the prime minister’s meeting  with Lao Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong at the Japan-Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International Japan, Mekong Watch, Empowerment For All Japan, and two other Japanese nongovernmental organizations said today in a joint letter to Prime Minister Abe.

The Japan-ASEAN Summit, scheduled from December 13-15, 2013, falls during the one-year anniversary of the abduction and forcible disappearance of Sombath Somphone, a recipient of the 2005 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership. Sombath was taken into custody by authorities at a checkpoint outside a police station in Vientiane, the capital of Laos, on December 15, 2012.

“On the one-year anniversary of Sombath Somphone’s abduction, Prime Minister Abe should break Japan’s public silence and call upon the Lao government to reveal the truth about Sombath’s fate,” said Kanae Doi, Japan director. “Japan’s words carry weight since it is the largest donor to Laos. Prime Minister Abe should use this leverage to send a strong message to the Lao leadership that it needs to stop ignoring the pleas to reveal what happened to Sombath.”

Since Sombath’s enforced disappearance, the Lao government has failed to conduct a serious investigation, despite widespread regional and international calls for accountability. Japan’s public silence on the Sombath case sends precisely the wrong signal to the Lao government, suggesting that its inaction is acceptable to Japan, the organizations said.

Consistent with its stated commitment to diplomacy based on the fundamental values of freedom, democracy, basic human rights, and the rule of law, the groups said, the Japanese government should take leadership in sending the message to the Lao government and other ASEAN member states that the protection against enforced disappearances is a concern not only of the government involved but of the broader international community.

“Japan should work with other international donors to make clear that they will not let this rest until the Lao government provides full information regarding Sombath’s case,” said Hideki Wakabayashi, secretary general of Amnesty International Japan. “The Lao government also needs to bring all those responsible for his enforced disappearance to justice.”

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“On the one-year anniversary of Sombath Somphone’s abduction, Prime Minister Abe should break Japan’s public silence and call upon the Lao government to reveal the truth about Sombath’s fate. Japan’s words carry weight since it is the largest donor to Laos. Prime Minister Abe should use this leverage to send a strong message to the Lao leadership that it needs to stop ignoring the pleas to reveal what happened to Sombath.”
Kanae Doi, Japan director
November 4, 2013

US war in SE Asia remembered by Laos-Aussies

3 Nov 2013 – 7:08pm

US war in SE Asia remembered by Laos-Aussies

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By Julia Calixto

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the end of the US bombing campaign in Laos, where more than 270 million cluster bombs were dropped during the Vietnam War.
But some young Laotians living in Australia fear their history will be lost, and are making efforts to find out more about America’s so-called ‘secret war’.
Laos is – per capita – the most heavily bombed country in the world. During America’s ‘Secret War’ from 1964 to 1973, the United States dropped hundreds of millions of cluster munitions on Laos in a covert mission to destroy North Vietnamese supply lines.
More bombs were dropped on Laos than all over Europe in World War Two.
But Australian NGO, Corner Link, says Laos is less known for its unexploded ordnances than its neighbour Cambodia.
An open forum was held by the organization to help raise public awareness of Laos and drew members from the Australian-Laos community.
“It was actually quite embarrassing that I didn’t know about this stuff a lot more than I should have”, said forum attendee, Danny Manich.
“Because it is my culture, it’s where I was born.’
Danny’s family migrated from Laos to Australia during the 1970s because of the Vietnam War, an experience he says many older Laotians still find it difficult to discuss.
That’s one of the reasons Laos-born Vicki Rattanavong and Parry Sanixay founded a young Laotian community group, Laos-Oz Foundation.
“For us it’s important, even though it’s happened in the past, to remind people that it has happened, to acknowledge it and move on” said Mr Sanixay.
Around 80 million bombs failed to detonate in Laos and about 50 million have not been found – posing a constant threat to farmers and children.
“For so many people, those wars are past history and they don’t understand what it’s like to be continuing to be a part of them as so many Laotian people are”, said Mike Sprang from NGO SafeGround.
Mr Sprang says he’d like to see a stronger push from the Australian government to stop the manufacturing of cluster bombs.
“It’s unfortunate that probably quite a large proportion of people who have a superannuation fund in Australia probably unwittingly supporting some of the companies that are still manufacturing those weapons.It’s disappointing to me that the cluster munitions treaty ratified by Australia doesn’t go nearly far enough to cover the matter of disinvestment”, said Mr Sprang.
And with yesterday’s closure of the Australian Agency for International Development, or AusAID, Parry Sanixay says they’re happy taking it upon themselves to help boost awareness.
“It’s all about sharing, it’s about letting people know what’s going on in Laos and definitely today’s topic it’s something we are keen to help share and promote.”











Thanks to Lai Saeng

Ho Chi Minh Trail

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The Ho Chi Minh Trail was not just one trail but a series of trails. The Ho Chi Minh Trail was used by the North Vietnamese as a route for its troops to get into the South. They also used the trail as a supply route – for weapons, food and equipment. The Ho Chin Minh Trail ran along the Laos/Cambodia and Vietnam borders and was dominated by jungles. In total the ‘trail’ was about 1,000 kilometres in length and consisted of many parts.


“There were thousands of trails, thousands of rest spots along the way where enemy troops could seek refuge and build up.” (M Maclear)


The ‘trail’ consisted of dummy routes that served the only purpose of confusing the Americans but was, in places, 80 kilometres (50 miles) wide. It is thought that up to 40,000 people were used to keep the route open. The natural environment gave the trail excellent cover as the jungle could provide as much as three canopies of tree cover, which disguised what was going on at ground level. The American response to this was to use defoliants – the most famous being Agent Orange – to kill off the greenery that gave cover to those using the trail. However, while large areas of jungle were effectively killed off, the task was too great and the Ho Chi Minh Trail was used for the duration of the war against the Americans in South Vietnam.


One way for the Americans to counter the Ho Chi Minh Trail was to build large bases near to it – Khe Sanh was one of these. From these large bases patrols were sent out in an effort to intercept anyone using the route. Regardless of this, it does seem that the task was simply too great for the Americans. Whereas the trail was based on deception and fluidity, the military bases built by the US were static. Therefore, once patrols left these bases they were by themselves. While they could be supported by air, there would always be a time delay between combat on the ground and the arrival of air support. By the very nature of guerrilla warfare, this gave the North Vietnamese the advantage as they had the ability to disappear into the jungle.

October 29, 2013

William H. Sullivan, U.S. Ambassador to Volatile Laos and Iran, Is Dead at 90

William H. Sullivan, U.S. Ambassador to Volatile Laos and Iran, Is Dead at 90

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Published: October 28, 2013

William E. Sauro/The New York Times After being held prisoner, Mr. Sullivan became president of the American Assembly.

William H. Sullivan, a career diplomat who spent much of the 1960s and 1970s in volatile parts of the world — notably Laos, where he oversaw a secret bombing campaign, and Iran, where he was the last United States ambassador before militants took embassy employees hostage in November 1979 — died on Oct. 11 in Washington. He was 90.

He had been ill and in hospice care for many months, said his daughter Anne Sullivan, who confirmed the death.

Mr. Sullivan, a Navy gunnery officer in World War II whose ship, the U.S.S. Hambleton, was involved in the invasion of Normandy and the surrender of Japan, joined the Foreign Service in 1947 and spent the next several years moving through increasingly prominent State Department posts in Asia, Europe and the Middle East.

He worked under Ambassador Clare Boothe Luce in Rome. He was a close aide to the diplomat W. Averell Harriman during the Cuban missile crisis and talks with the Soviet Union about limits on nuclear testing. In 1973, he was a top adviser to Henry A. Kissinger during the Paris Peace Accords, which led to the United States’ withdrawal of troops from Vietnam.

These roles were in addition to his prominent and complicated turns as an ambassador in politically charged areas — first in Laos, then in the Philippines and, finally, in Iran. He was appointed by presidents of both parties.

In 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson named Mr. Sullivan ambassador to Laos as tensions with neighboring Vietnam were rising there. Though Mr. Sullivan was a civilian, he oversaw a covert bombing campaign in Laos that targeted North Vietnamese forces traveling the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The bombings were conducted by the C.I.A., and Mr. Sullivan initially concealed them even from visiting members of Congress.

When lawmakers learned of the bombings in 1969, many questioned whether Mr. Sullivan and the executive branch had the authority and expertise to carry them out. An aid worker in Laos, Ronald J. Rickenbach, told a Senate subcommittee that many of the attacks appeared to be “indiscriminate bombing of population centers.”

Mr. Sullivan, who was called numerous times to testify before Congress, defended the covert bombings and insisted that his knowledge of Laos allowed him to monitor them closely and to minimize civilian casualties. He later said that civilian deaths rose after the military took control of the bombing campaign.

Mr. Sullivan left Laos in 1969 and spent much of the early ’70s as the deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs. He worked closely with Mr. Kissinger in lengthy negotiations with North Vietnam that produced the Paris accords.

Even as Mr. Kissinger praised him for his assistance in Paris, it was disclosed that Mr. Sullivan had been one of 13 government officials and four journalists whose phones were wiretapped from 1969 to 1971 with the approval of President Richard M. Nixon. The stated goal was to halt leaks to the news media. Mr. Kissinger provided the list of those to be tapped; he later said that he did so only to prove that officials were not leaking information.

Also in 1973, President Nixon appointed Mr. Sullivan ambassador to the Philippines, where he negotiated with the government of President Ferdinand E. Marcos to handle the flow of refugees fleeing Vietnam and, later, to close two military bases. Four years later, in a move Mr. Sullivan said surprised him given his extensive experience in Southeast Asia, President Jimmy Carter named him ambassador to Iran. Within months after his arrival, a rebellion began growing against the government of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, whom the United States supported.

By the fall of 1978, debate was raging within the Carter administration over what to do about the volatile situation. Mr. Sullivan clashed with Zbigniew Brzezinski, the president’s national security adviser, and complained that the administration was unresponsive to his repeated requests for clear instructions. Some criticized Mr. Sullivan for not seeing the seriousness of the threat to the shah, and thus to American political interests in the country. He argued later that the shah could have preserved power in a new coalition had the White House been more responsive.

In February 1979, a month after the shah had fled, the United States Embassy in Iran was briefly overtaken by Iranian militants, and Mr. Sullivan and several other Americans were taken prisoner. The Iranian government quickly freed them, but the episode prompted Mr. Sullivan to begin reducing the number of United States government employees in Iran, to fewer than 100 from more than 1,000.

Mr. Sullivan’s exchanges with the White House became increasingly bitter. In a 1981 memoir, “Mission to Iran,” he recalled receiving “a most unpleasant and abrasive cable” that “contained an unacceptable aspersion upon my loyalty.”

“When I was told by telephone from the State Department that the insulting message had originated at the White House,” he wrote, “I thought that I no longer had a useful function to perform on behalf of the president in Tehran.”

He left Iran that spring and retired from government service later that year. On Nov. 4, 1979, Iranian militants scaled the walls of the United States Embassy compound and took 66 Americans hostage, holding 52 of them until January 1981. The United States has not had an ambassador in Iran since Mr. Sullivan left.

William Healy Sullivan was born on Oct. 12, 1922, in Cranston, R.I. His father, Joseph, was a dental surgeon, and his mother, the former Sabina Foley, was a schoolteacher. He received his undergraduate degree from Brown University and, in 1947, a master’s degree in international law and diplomacy jointly from Harvard and the Fletcher School at Tufts University.

From 1979 to 1986, Mr. Sullivan was president of the American Assembly, a public affairs forum at Columbia University. After 1986, he served on the boards of the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy and other organizations.

In addition to his daughter Anne, his survivors include three other children, John, Mark and Peggy Sullivan, and six grandchildren. His wife of 62 years, the former Marie Johnson, died in 2010.

August 19, 2013

Mandarin asserting its dominance in north Laos

Mandarin asserting its dominance in north Laos

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By Farish A. Noor

19 August 2013| last updated at 11:22PM

BEIJING CALLING: The hegemony of English is declining fast in northern Southeast Asia as China ups its investments in region

I AM currently working on a documentary research project about borders and frontier-zones across Asia, and have been startled by some of my findings thus far. On a research trip along the Laos-China border recently, I was struck by the number of Mandarin schools that have popped up in the small towns and villages that lead to the border, and the number of Laotian families that have chosen to send their children there to study Mandarin.

The reason for this shift in attitudes is simple enough: China is the biggest investor in Laos at present, and the might of China’s economy is keenly felt among the small population of Laos, who see hundreds of Chinese lorries and boats go down the highways and the Mekong river.

Entire communities have sprung up as a result, and along the border, new Special Economic Zones have emerged where Chinese businessmen and tourists flock by the tens of thousands all the time.

So strong is China’s presence, the most popular language now, apart from Lao, is Mandarin, and increasingly, poor Laotians are learning the language so that they can get jobs with Chinese firms that are investing in their country.

Nobody could have anticipated this more than a decade ago, when it was assumed that Communist China would keep its capital within its borders. But China’s economic liberalization has occasioned the rise of a new form of soft power politics, and this translates as expanding Chinese cultural and economic influence, via language.

I visited a small Mandarin school by the border and noted that even the textbooks came from China, and Laotian children now learn about Chinese history and geography. In time, they may know more about China than any other Southeast Asian child today. In the process of learning more about China, they are also forgetting what their parents and grandparents had learned about Europe and North America.

This development also has another twist to it that will bear interesting results in the long run: the demise of English as the language of choice, and with that, the demise of Western political, economic and cultural influence in Southeast Asia, too.

But this is, in a sense, inevitable — for Western investment in Laos pales in comparison with the Chinese presence — and there is no point in learning English or French if American, French and British companies are not investing heavily there. During my trip, I was only able to speak French with one elderly Laotian gentleman who was born during the French colonial era. As he put it: “This is the new world. And now everyone looks to China and wants to learn Mandarin instead.”

The same pattern of economic development and cultural influence can be seen in Myanmar and northern Thailand, where there is the same influx of Chinese capital and with that, Chinese migration and settlement, too. There, too, I found that locals were keen to learn Mandarin, and to get their kids into Mandarin schools.

It seems a far cry from the 1960s-1980s when Coca Cola and Hollywood were the popular symbols of progress and the good life. Now, the currency that is most commonly used is the yuan, and the northerners of these countries look further north towards a more prosperous future.

All of this signals the eventual eclipse of English as the global means of communication, and perhaps also the waning influence of North America and Western Europe in the affairs of Asia.

The experiment has just begun, but already the effects are palpable and in some respects irreversible: as Laotian kids learn Mandarin, their world view, value system, means of cognition and knowledge, are all bound to be shaped by the perspective of the Mandarin tongue.

Is English faced with the threat of extinction then? Perhaps not immediately, but its influence and its hegemonic power is certainly declining fast. The powers of the Western world may still wish to preach the values of the West and to predicate their foreign policy upon Western notions of justice, liberalism and equality; but what is happening now in parts of Southeast Asia may well render all of that futile.

The Western world view will simply become a parochial one if Asia opts to looks at the world anew, via a different linguistic lens that reconstructs reality through the prism of Mandarin instead.

This is a development worth watching closely, for its impact will be lasting and will re-shape the cultural and political contours of Asia for good.

June 18, 2013

Airborne laser reveals hidden city in Cambodia

Airborne laser reveals hidden city in Cambodia

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By KRISTEN GELINEAU, Associated Press

Updated 4:19 am, Tuesday, June 18, 2013

In this photo taken on June 28, 2012, Cambodia’s famed Angkor Wat temples complex stands in Siem Reap province, some 230 kilometers (143 miles) northwest Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Airborne laser technology has uncovered a network of roadways and canals, Monday, June 17, 2013, in a peer-reviewed paper released early by the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Photo: Heng Sinith

SYDNEY (AP) — Airborne laser technology has uncovered a network of roadways and canals, illustrating a bustling ancient city linking Cambodia’s famed Angkor Wat temple complex.

The discovery was announced late Monday in a peer-reviewed paper released early by the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The laser scanning revealed a previously undocumented formally planned urban landscape integrating the 1,200-year-old temples.

The Angkor temple complex, Cambodia’s top tourist destination and one of Asia’s most famous landmarks, was constructed in the 12th century during the mighty Khmer empire. Angkor Wat is a point of deep pride for Cambodians, appearing on the national flag, and was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Archaeologists had long suspected that the city of Mahendraparvata lay hidden beneath a canopy of dense vegetation atop Phnom Kulen mountain in Siem Reap province. But the airborne lasers produced the first detailed map of a vast cityscape, including highways and previously undiscovered temples.

“No one had ever mapped the city in any kind of detail before, and so it was a real revelation to see the city revealed in such clarity,” University of Sydney archaeologistDamian Evans, the study’s lead author, said by phone from Cambodia. “It’s really remarkable to see these traces of human activity still inscribed into the forest floor many, many centuries after the city ceased to function and was overgrown.”

The laser technology, known as lidar, works by firing laser pulses from an aircraft to the ground and measuring the distance to create a detailed, three-dimensional map of the area. It’s a useful tool for archaeologists because the lasers can penetrate thick vegetation and cover swaths of ground far faster than they could be analyzed on foot. Lidar has been used to explore other archaeological sites, such as Stonehenge.

In April 2012, researchers loaded the equipment onto a helicopter, which spent days crisscrossing the dense forests from 800 meters (2,600 feet) above the ground. A team of Australian and French archaeologists then confirmed the findings with an on-foot expedition through the jungle.

Archaeologists had already spent years doing ground research to map a 9-square-kilometer (3.5-square-mile) section of the city’s downtown area. But the lidar revealed the downtown was much more expansive — at least 35 square kilometers (14 square miles) — and more heavily populated than once believed.

“The real revelation is to find that the downtown area is densely inhabited, formally-planned and bigger than previously thought,” Evans said. “To see the extent of things we missed before has completely changed our understanding of how these cities were structured.”

Researchers don’t yet know why the civilization at Mahendraparvata collapsed. But Evans said one current theory is that possible problems with the city’s water management system may have driven people out.

The next step for researchers involves excavating the site, which Evans hopes will reveal clues about how many people once called the city home.


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