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Cablegate: Burma Donors Conference: Lao Foreign Minister To

VZCZCXRO1565
RR RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHNH
DE RUEHVN #0297 1440723
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 230723Z MAY 08
FM AMEMBASSY VIENTIANE
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 2027
INFO RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK 0194

UNCLAS VIENTIANE 000297

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR EAP/MLS (BESTIC, COPE)

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: EAID PGOV PHUM BM LA
SUBJECT: BURMA DONORS CONFERENCE: LAO FOREIGN MINISTER TO
ATTEND

REF: A. SECSTATE 55244

B. SECSTATE 53985
C. VIENTIANE 0272

1. (SBU) Summary: Senior Lao Ministry of Foreign Affairs
(MFA) officials view the Burmese government as having changed
its attitude toward outside assistance as a result of the
recent ASEAN meeting in Singapore. They expressed high hopes
the May 25 Pledging Meeting in Rangoon will be effective in
helping establish a process to help Burma cope with the
massive humanitarian needs faced by the Burmese people. The
Lao delegation to the Rangoon meeting will be led by Deputy
Prime Minister/Foreign Minister Thongloun Sisoulith. End
summary.

2. (SBU) Poloff met with MFA Asia, Pacific, and Africa
Department Deputy Director General Viroth Sundara May 22 to
deliver ref B demarche and provided ref A additional points
to him on May 23. DDG Viroth had accompanied Lao Vice
Foreign Minister Bounkeut Sangsomsack on his visit to Rangoon
May 7 (ref C). Viroth called the upcoming meeting a good
oppportunity for both ASEAN and the UN to find ways to help
the Burmese government distribute international assistance --
too much of which is still stuck at the Rangoon Airport, not
reaching the affected people. According to Viroth, the
Burmese only had 4-5 helicopters of their own, and there is
no way for trucks to reach people especially in the delta
region. And the needs are great: when he toured Rangoon
earlier this month, he saw 20-30 people crowding into a
single small tent. In response to ref B points on
reconstruction, Viroth noted that the discussion of when to
begin reconstruction had already begun at the May 19 ASEAN
meeting in Singapore. Viroth commented that the Singapore
meeting had made good progress with the Burmese Foreign
Minister who agreed that assistance teams from any ASEAN
member could enter Burma to help -- earlier the Buremse had
only accepted Thai and Lao medical teams. When
reconstruction does begin, he added, Burma will need a great
deal of construction equipment.

3. (SBU) Poloff subsequently met with MFA ASEAN Department
DDG Phongsavanh Sisoulath and also subsequently provided the
ref A supplemental points. According to Phongsavanh, the May
19 Singapore meeting agreed to think of support for the
emergency phase of assistance to Burma as lasting three
months -- paralleling the Indonesian experience from the 2004
tsunami. After three months, the focus could turn to the
reconstruction phase. He confirmed Deputy PM/FM Thongloun,
now in Japan, will be back in time to attend the May 25
gathering. Laos has already sent five flights of aid to
Burma and has deployed a 24-member medical team. Phongsavanh
noted that the medical team, which had gone to Burma before
the May 19 ASEAN meeting, only received permission to stay
two weeks -- "too short a time." Now that ASEAN has pressed
Burma to be more open to assistance, Phongsavanh expects
things will change, and the next Lao medical team -- probably
also in the 20-24 member range -- would be allowed to stay
longer. He said many doctors had already volunteered to
particpate on the next team.

4. (SBU) Phongsavanh pointed out that Burma's response
immediately after the cyclone was to only accept assistance
from its immediate neighbors -- including Laos. At the May
19 ASEAN meeting in Singapore, the ASEAN "non-neighbors,"
including Indonesia, pressed for more opening. Asked about
the ASEAN "mechanism" set up in Singapore, Phongsavanh said
that a mechanism within Burma already existed; the new
element added in Singapore was for ASEAN to act as the
"external mechanism" to coordinate international assistance
for Burma. He expressed optimism that the task force led by
ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Phitsuwan to undertake a survey
and assessment of Burma's needs will "make a good
contribution." Phongsavanh accepted that the capacity of the
Burmese regime is "not as strong as it should be" but said
allowing ASEAN to act on behalf of Burma (in coordinating
assistance) would help open the country more. Another Lao
Vice FM, Phongsavath Boupha, went to Burma on May 21 to
examine the situation.

5. (SBU) In the May 22 discussion, Phongsavanh called the May
25 Rangoon meeting a "great opportunity" for the United
States to join forty other countries. He said it would be
important for the United States to send a senior-level
delegation and pledge to play a major role.
HUSO

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