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Cablegate: Laos: Annual Uxo Meetings Highlight U.S.

DE RUEHVN #0926/01 3611000
R 271000Z DEC 07





E.O. 12958: N/A


1: Summary: UXO Lao and the National Regulatory Authority
(NRA) held year-end meetings to discuss 2007 achievements on
removal of unexploded ordnance and to look ahead at 2008
workplans. UXO Lao is on track to clear approximately 21%
more land in 2007 than in 2006, with U.S.-funded initiatives
helping to improve productivity. UXO Lao,s projected FY
2008 budget deficit does not take into account the expected
sharp U.S. funding cut foreseen in the current USG FY 2008
budget. The United States will likely lose its position as
the largest donor to the sector in FY 2008 to Japan. Current
projections show Japan giving $2 million in FY 2008, while
the U.S. is scheduled to only give $1.4 million. The NRA
claimed a number of accomplishments for 2007 including the
publication of national UXO clearance standards as well as
completing preparation for the first comprehensive UXO victim
survey to take place in 2008. This survey, which should
finally give government and donors reliable statistics on the
number of UXO accident victims, will be updated each year.
In order to help maintain political support for further aid,
donors encouraged the NRA to seek out more funding from the
Lao Government for the UXO sector. End Summary.

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"Explosive" Donor Visit Covers 2007 Achievements and 2008
--------------------------------------------- ---------------

2. UXO Lao held its annual donor field visit December 5-7 in
Saravan province. The purpose of the trip was to remind
donors of the reality of what they fund, discuss progress in
2007, and then approve UXO Lao,s 2008 workplan. In
addition, attendees had the opportunity to blow things up,
including a number of cluster bombs (or bombies as they are
called in Laos) and some large 500 pound bombs. The
explosions did a fine job of concentrating donors on the
tangible importance UXO Lao,s work.

3. Mr. Bounpone Sayasenh, National Program Director for UXO
Lao since its inception in 1996, briefed donors on UXO Laos'
2007 progress report. According to Mr. Bounpone, 2007 was an
excellent year. Although statistics were only available
through October 2007, UXO Lao had already cleared 2,274
hectares, 96% of its goal and 21% more than was cleared
through October 2006. The national strategic plan, the "Safe
Path Forward," had called for clearing only 1800 hectares in
2007. Mr. Bounpone and his team were clearly proud of the
progress they have made in increasing UXO Lao,s productivity.

U.S. Funded Initiatives Improve Productivity

4. Driving the improvements in productivity are a number of
management initiatives, many funded by the United States. A
2005-2006 study on clearance systems made clear the
importance of using UXO detectors such as the Vallon VMXC1 to
help speed clearance rates. Tuned to detect objects the size
of half a BLU-26 bombie with fuse (the national standard),
UXO detectors such as the Vallon greatly increase
productivity by not requiring the operator to stop to check
every small piece of metal that mine detectors catch. The
vast majority of UXO Lao,s 1,235 detectors are designed to
clear mines and thus detect even minute amounts of metal.
Because Laos is covered with scrap, clearing using regular
detectors is much slower; UXO Lao believes new UXO detectors
could increase clearance rates by 50%. UXO Lao currently
owns 64 Vallons, funded by the USG and Irish Aid. It plans
to purchase an additional 230 with non-U.S. funding.
(Comment: Ref A reports Vice Foreign Minister Phongsavath's
discussion with PACOM,s Admiral Keating in which VFM
Phongsavath raised the need for additional equipment. This
is an area where increased U.S. funds could make an immediate
difference. UXO Lao needs to replace about 800 mine
detectors with UXO detectors. Although expensive (the
Vallons cost 2,650 euros apiece), new detectors would lead to
an immediate jump in clearance speed and bring Laos closer to
reaching the end-state foreseen in the Laos UXO country plan.
End Comment.)

5. Mr. Bounpone also discussed the importance of the
U.S.-sponsored enhanced technical survey (ETS), which the
delegation saw in action. The ETS allows UXO Lao to make
judgments, based on available data and spot checks, as to
whether a plot of land needs to be cleared or can be released

VIENTIANE 00000926 002 OF 003

for use. ETS teams are working in five provinces:
Luangprabang, Savannakhet, Xiengkuang, Champassack, and
Sekong. UXO Lao intends, as funding is available, to deploy
ETS teams in the remaining 4 provinces where it operates in
2008. It estimates ETS could release up to 20% of the land
targeted for clearance, although these plots would need to be
classified as "released" and not cleared. The Lao government
is currently working on legislation to support "released"
land and cover liability issues.

Planning for 2008 and the plea for cash

6. UXO Lao also presented its 2008 workplan for the donors
to discuss and approve. Although donors did not have a
chance to preview the plan prior to the meeting, the plan
does not contain many surprises: an increased emphasis on ETS
usage, exploration of new technologies such as the
geophysical survey, an increased budget for purchasing
vehicles and detectors, and an estimated $976,730 shortfall.
This assumes the U.S. will pay, as previously agreed (subject
to availability of funds), the operating costs for
Savannakhet and Champassack provinces. However, the current
FY 08 budget cuts U.S. funding to UXO Lao by approximately
one-third and is no longer sufficient to fund the costs of
clearing the two provinces; UXO Lao is not yet aware of this

7. Although not raised officially in Saravan a number of the
donors discussed the need for the Lao government to begin
funding some of the UXO Lao budget itself. "Mine action" in
Laos is essentially paid for by foreign donors, although the
government does provide buildings. This discussion spilled
over into the evening, and the topic was then raised at the
National Regulatory Authority (NRA) annual review, held
December 12 and chaired by NRA Director Dr. Maligna

Finding its sealegs

8. The NRA itself remains a work in progress. In his
December 12 review of 2007 Dr. Maligna was careful not to
exaggerate the NRA,s achievements. He did, however, make
the case that, as a young agency within the Lao Government,
the NRA was still developing critical relationships with
other Ministries (many of which sit on the Board which
theoretically oversees the agency and determines policy) and
finding its raison d,etre. The NRA's key achievements for
2007 include:
Development of National UXO Clearance Standards.
Development of a Certification process for UXO
operators and the first accreditations of Milsearch and
Bactec, both commercial firms.
Installation of the UN,s Information System for Mine
Action (IMSMA) as the basis for the national Lao UXO database.
Development of new Mine Risk Education materials.
Development of a comprehensive program to collect UXO
victim information nationwide.

--------------------------------------------- -----------
2008 Victim Survey Should help clarify extent of problem
--------------------------------------------- -----------

9. One of the NRA,s chief objectives is to reduce the
number of UXO incidents to fewer than 100 people a year.
Reaching this objective requires good data on the number of
incidents per year, something which does not exist. Outside
of a 1997 Handicap International study which documented
11,000 people killed or injured by UXO between 1973 and 1996,
there is precious little hard annual data on accidents. This
should change in 2008, as the NRA is moving forward with a
two-step plan to first gather data on all UXO victims and
accidents since 1964, and then begin a process to collect
data on current UXO victims. The survey will be carried out
by the National Rehabilitation Center and the Ministry of
Health. A previous plan announced in mid-2007 fell apart due
to bureaucratic infighting related to the control of the
survey. Assuming the new survey goes ahead, it should allow
the NRA to focus UXO clearance, education, and victim
assistance efforts to areas with high ongoing accident rates.

10. Another important development for 2008 is the detailed

VIENTIANE 00000926 003 OF 003

workplan which the U.S.-funded technical assistant (working
via Armor Group North America) helped draw up in consultation
with the Lao government. Having set out a clear roadmap,
including timelines, responsible parties, and budgets, the
NRA does not lack for direction. It will, however, need
strong leadership. Dr. Maligna is a savvy former Lao
diplomat who was brought out of retirement to run the NRA.
Although he has agreed to stay at least through 2008, his
work and that of his successor will be critical to the NRA,s
long-run success. The current favorite among donors is Mr.
Bounpone, Director of UXO Lao. Although not quite as
well-connected as Dr. Maligna, his knowledge of the UXO
situation and players in Laos is second to none, and Mr.
Bounpone has shown an unusual ability to manage people and
his current organization. Financial controls at UXO Lao have
also given donor confidence in Mr. Bounpone,s ability to
manage a budget without leakage, an important issue when the
entire sector relies on foreign financing.

No Longer the Largest Donor?

11. The United States has donated more money to the UXO
sector in Laos than any other country, more than $30 million
since FY 1993. It is in danger of losing its crown as the
largest yearly donor to the Japanese, however. The Japanese
Government raised its contributions in the recent past,
giving $1.6 million in FY 2006 and $2.0 million in FY 2007.
If Japan maintains its FY 2007 numbers in FY 2008, it will
likely assume the mantel of the largest donor to the UXO
sector in Laos. Jun Yoshida, program coordinator for UXO at
the Japanese Embassy, is cautious about FY 2008 funding
levels. A planned FY 2008 USG budget of $1.4 million for UXO
removal in Laos gives the Japanese government plenty of room
to come out ahead.

GOL urged to commit funds to UXO clearance

12. At the NRA meeting, the Swiss representative raised the
importance of the Lao government taking greater ownership of
the UXO program by providing at least some funding. The
Swiss Government recently donated $1.5 million to the UXO
sector, of which approximately $500,000 is going to the NRA
to fund the majority of its FY 2008 budget; the Swiss will
also provide two technical assistants. The National
Strategic Plan, written in 2003, calls for a yearly $50,000
contribution from the Lao government to the UXO sector; this
money has never made its way into the budget of UXO Lao or
any independent operator. Dr. Maligna of the NRA did note
that the government is paying for a new building to house UXO
Lao and the NRA, with construction scheduled to start in
2008. The funding issue resonated with a number of donors
who pointed out that it is much easier to raise money for UXO
clearance when it is clear that it is a true government
priority, as demonstrated by the Lao government providing
serious funds.

13. Comment: While a number of donors made suggestions to
the Lao government at both meetings, there appears to be
little significant dissatisfaction among donors with UXO Lao
and the NRA. While not moving as fast as we would like,
considerable progress is being made in creating a viable NRA.
A projected revision of the National Strategic Plan,
strongly urged by the United States and Australia, should
help clarify Lao government priorities and allow donors to
focus their aid where most required. Unfortunately,
projected U.S. funding levels for FY 2008 will diminish U.S.
influence and limit our ability to push for necessary
capacity building. Fair or not, the Lao Government and the
international community in Laos link the UXO problem directly
with the United States. To the extent we can maintain our
leadership position in funding, we also extend our influence
and enhance our prestige.


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