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Laos: Unesco Urges Luang Prabang To Enforce Heritage Commitments

VIENTIANE, LAOS: A team of Unesco officials have expressed concerns over the rise of new buildings and unplanned developments in the town of Luang Prabang, and urged local authorities to address the issue immediately, according to a senior heritage official.

T he director of the Luang Prabang Heritage Office, Manivone Thoummabouth, said Wednesday (Nov 28) that the three Unesco officials had made these comments to provincial authorities this week after having spent six days in the town to examine whether it is living up to its World Heritage status in the 10 years since it was granted.

"They told us unofficially about their concerns, so there has been no actual impact yet. We will know whether Luang Prabang can maintain its World Heritage status once they send us their official assessment", she told Vientiane Times in a telephone interview.

She said that the Unesco officials had completed their inspection Wednesday and were scheduled to leave the town Thursday (29 Nov). They would then take about a month to send through the official results of their inspection to the Unesco office and the Lao government.

During their visit, the inspectors took a tour around the town and visited a number of important historical sites. There, they found several changes had occurred, such as a rise in the number of new buildings and the disappearance of some of the older structures.

They saw that locals had been putting up new buildings without proper planning, and some water reservoirs had been taken over by private residences.

The inspectors also expressed concern over the increase in tourism investments, using the example of the five-star hotels being built in the area, which would only diminish the town's World Heritage charm, according to Ms Manivone.

She confirmed that the Unesco officials had visited the Deputy Governor of Luang Prabang and raised their concerns for discussion. In response, the Deputy Governor made a commitment to the visiting guests that the provincial authorities would try harder to address these concerns.

Manivone expressed confidence that from now on the protection of Luang Prabang's World Heritage status would be paramount, due to the establishment last week of a national Committee on World Heritage, with Deputy Prime Minister Somsavat Lengsavad as president.

She explained that one of the main problems had been the failure of local authorities to protect the town's World Heritage status, due to poor legal enforcement.

"We have laws and regulations governing this area, which actually forbid new Western-style buildings in heritage areas, but residents don't always abide by the law," she said.

She explained that law enforcement required cooperation from all sectors concerned, which was why high-ranking government officials were stepping in to supervise.

Manivone said the provincial authorities would allocate quotas for timber to provide residents with enough wood to renovate the old buildings, instead of cement, to ensure that the buildings' original character was retained.

She said residents needed to realise that losing the town's World Heritage status would hurt the tourism industry, which in turn would affect the local economy. (The Vientiane Times/ ANN)

MySinchew 2007.11.29


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