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Laos and Thailand

February 18, 2013

Foreign Minister Bob Carr will this week visit Laos and Thailand for talks with government, business leaders and representatives of health and non-government organisations.

Thailand is Australia’s ninth largest trading partner. In Thailand, Senator Carr will hold talks Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr Surapong Tovichakchaikul on regional development and security. This builds on the visit by Thailand’s Prime Minister Yingluck to Australia in 2012.

Senator Carr will also meet with Australian business representatives in Thailand.

In Laos, Senator Carr will meet Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, Dr Thongloun Sisoulith and the Planning and Investment Minister, Somdy Douangdy.

Senator Carr will discuss programs to reduce the incidence of avoidable blindness and meet Australian volunteer surgical teams. Australia is one of the largest bilateral aid donors to Laos, providing $47.8 million in 2012-13.

Senator Carr will also inspect Australian-funded work to safely remove unexploded ordnance in regional Laos. One third of Laos is contaminated by unexploded ordnance from previous conflicts. Since 1996 Australia has provided more than $24 million in related assistance.

  1. Mekong permalink
    February 18, 2013 1:39 pm

    Dear Senator Carr,
    Yes blindness is an issue and yes the old mantra of UXO is seductive, but of greater concern is the damming of most Lao rivers. Only between 6-10% of Lao land is suitable for agriculture. A lot of that if river flats. Lap people have a prefernce for fish proein where they can’t catch or farm it themselves. The population density of Lao (around 25 /km in periurban regions 10/km2 in the north) hardly rates the huge ecodestuction of dams and energy conservation of other renewables are not even considered as the rake offs are tiny.
    There are 124 dams planned for this tiny country. We know corruption and payoffs got h highest levels. In country as small as his ones friends are connected to those up there taking the grease. They are rutless and greedy. The Lao people are the most frightened and intimicated I have know in all the 26 years I have been in Asia.

    As I wrote in New Matilda recently the major differences between Lao and Myanmar are
    1. Myanmar had always had an organised opposition. Not so Lao
    2. Myanmar has always had a professional indpendent media albeit in exile. Not so Laos.. all media is Govt controed.
    3. Myanmar had an independent clergy. Not so in Lao where the abbots are given political training and Buddhist tenets are altered to exclude impermanence or others unacceptable to the Party.
    4. Myanmar has a political culture, and educated elite and people who want to educate kids. Not So in Lao. Few outside the cities have education and parents would rather but a Car or TV than educate the kids. Politics are not talked about as spies are everywhere. Good solution for unemployment. Phones and internet are monitored.

    Ausaid’s scholarship system entrenches that by preferential policies that favour those that speak English and who are usually inevitably already well off..

    So far aid and in partic economic development in Lao has benefited the rich while dispossessing the poor. ADB projects like road and airports are hardly going to benefit someone who walks and lives in what is left of Lao forest (3-6% no matter what the GoL says) Government data is fanciful at best outright dishonest at worst. But when Ausaid tries to introduce a program to promulgate Free and Informed Prior Consent, the consulting company is threatened by woman senior in the Party.. several times. They cancel the contract. Protesting villagers are arrested, put in stocks o r if they have family overseas held for months and interrogated. Thi is not a nice country, but its loved by travel writers who gush about its laid back style..

    This week I hear they are on a charm offensive to persuade the rural people forcibly removed for ancestral domain, burial and sacred sites, places they have farmed since they were small, that giving it to Vietnamese to plant acacia/rubber/palm oil, will be good for them, despite the fact they cannot now feed themselves and infant malnutrition is 50%. Rates among adults who have to grown and find food is similar. Forest dwellers need forest to survive. The planet needs forest to sequester carbon.. the Lao army and Viets need forest to get more filthy rich.

    Poverty is relative. When I was in Indonesia for 11 years, the Wold Bank for whom I worked for a time surveyed Indonesia’s poorest villages. They came up with a list.

    “We’re not poor” the villagers responded outraged. “We grow our food, we are self suffcient. When we need cash we look for work. We have an imam who teaches us to be honest and thoughtful, We have a good teacher and health center. We are rich.” But hey this did not buy stuff.

    Sorry to bang on, but Sombath and his wife are friends. I cannot tell you what an elegant erudite and whimsical man he was. How he dedicated his like to meditation and justice. His disappearance follws on the heels of many others.. small people whose lives do not rank headlines. Five women last year according to my ‘Lao daughter.’ Many of my friends do not travel at night for fear of being taken. What sort of place does this to its people?

    and as you know Lao and Vietnam undermined the ASEAN HR Charter. The major push came from Lao. This place deserves sanction more than Myanmar.

    Take care

    Melody Kemp
    021 353246

  2. February 18, 2013 5:50 pm

    Bob, I’m glad you are in Laos and pleased that Australia is contributing to the UXO cleanup. I would have been even happier if you had read the submissions by many good people pleading with the Australian government to make the ratification of the cluster bomb ban treaty meaningful and effective. I and others would have liked it if you had adhered to the spirit of the treaty and not deviated to please the US Embassy.

    Could I recommend, the Submission by N.AJ. Taylor, Re. Provisions of the Criminal Code Amendment (Cluster Munition Prohibition) Bill 2010. Taylor says in part that:

    “Repeated statements by the Government since have conceded that the use of cluster
    munitions presents the risk of “unacceptable harm to civilians” and must therefore be
    subject to an internationally-binding ban. But since the Convention came into effect in
    August 20I0, the Gillard Government seem to have seemingly reneged on its
    responsibilities to prohibit the use of cluster munitions by prohibiting their
    production, use, stockpiling and transfer as well as to prohibit signatories from any
    activity that may “assist and encourage” any other countries to do so”.

    So, please spend money on clearing Laos of its bomb legacy. Please don’t cut the programmes that are saving lives. But at the same time, let’s have some honesty about what the government is actually doing – and make the clearance and rehabilitation meaningful and effective. For humanity’s sake, do the right thing.

    Willy Bach

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