The Laotian Times revisits the top news stories of the year 2019.
For Laos, the year of 2019 was marked by the impact of natural disasters, including severe and long-lasting drought, as well as flash flooding caused by a succession of tropical storms. Additionally, an earthquake in northern Laos caused damage to several structures and upset the livelihoods of local people, while those in the capital dealt with a prolonged, hazy smog.
With climate change in the global spotlight, Laos has faced its fair share of challenges and continues to adjust and adapt, most recently by finally banning open burning in urban areas of the capital.
Tourism has been a big driver of news over the year, with the Visit Laos-China Year 2019 being hailed a success, and several new air routes opening, as well as the announcement of the first direct flight between Laos and Japan.
Luang Prabang, in particular, caught the world’s attention by being ranked 11th in the Architectural Digest Top 20 Places to Travel in 2020. Meanwhile, the province’s Kuangsi Falls was named in a list of best places for Japanese tourists to travel, created by TripAdvisor.
Here are the top 10 stories of 2019:
The northern provinces of Laos were hit by floods and landslides in late July, with villages in Nan District, Luang Prabang heavily flooded after the Nan River burst its banks.
Several southern provinces in Laos were then hit by severe floods in September after two consecutive tropical storms lashed the region.
Affected areas included Champasack, Salavanh, Sekong, Attapeu, and Savannakhet provinces. Residents of these regions were been completely devastated, and desperately fought to defend their homes, livestock, and crops.
Flash floods and landslides swept away at least seven people in Houaphanh Province in the wake of Tropical Storm Wipha.
9. ARREST OF MONEY LAUNDERER
Thailand arrested an alleged money-launderer in Mukdahan Province, bordering Savannakhet in September. The arrest was the result of an ongoing investigation into the money trail generated by a drug ring based in Laos, which had been smuggling drugs into Thailand’s northeastern provinces.
Police found THB 1.5 million in cash and LAK 55 million (USD 6,240) in his possession, along with four bank account books and five ATM cards. Other items seized included a pickup truck, five mobile phones, a gold necklace, a 1.8-carat diamond ring and other items.
Mr. Watchaphum denied all of the charges, however. He told police he ran a currency exchange business in Outhoumphone, in Savannakhet Province in Laos, and he would often withdraw THB 500,000 to 5 million at a time upon customers’ requests.
Mr. Watchaphum is well known in certain Lao circles as the husband of a Savannakhet-based net idol named “Jae Nang,” famous for her rants and critiques released on Facebook.
8. LAOS AND SK ENGINEERING CLASH OVER DAM COLLAPSE
South Korean construction firm SK Engineering dismissed the findings by the Lao government cited as the reason for a fatal hydropower dam collapse last year in Laos.
SK Engineering & Construction said in a press release on 29 May that the company could not agree with the findings as they lack scientific basis and data.
The South Korean firm’s announcement came after the National Investigation Committee (NIC) formed by the Lao government said on 28 May that the dam collapse as not a “force majeure” event and it could have been prevented by adequate treatment measures.
The NIC’s conclusion was based on the result of the investigation by a panel of professional and independent experts (the Independent Expert Panel, or IEP).
The South Korean firm said it conducted an analysis based on location, methodology and third-party analysis designated by the IEP, and the final data did not support the panel’s conclusion, as quoted by South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency.
The company also noted that teams sent by both the South Korean government and by a group of leading engineering firms to investigate the cause of the disaster, at the behest of the government of Laos, have different opinions from those included in the IEP report.
7. NINE BORDER CHECKPOINTS DISCONTINUE VISA SERVICES
Nine of Laos’s border checkpoints have discontinued providing visa on arrival services to tourists after a notice was issued by the Prime Minister’s Office.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs was tasked with coordinating the closure of the visa units to ensure that no disruptions are caused at border checkpoints.
The full list of closed checkpoints is available in the original article here.
6. KIWIPAY LAUNCHES VISA PAYMENT SERVICES IN AFRICA
KiwiPay, a Laos-based payment solution provider, is set to launch its cashless visa payment system in up to seven African countries, in a move to tap into a growing number of Chinese visitors to Africa.
KiwiPay is currently providing its cashless visa payment solutions to Vientiane’s Wattay International airport for Chinese tourists using Alipay’s facial recognition feature.
Over the past few months, Kiwi Group has signed several partnership agreements with local banks and government organizations to provide a cashless solution for visa processing at Laos’s border checkpoints.
The company has begun testing the solutions with governments in several other frontier markets in South-East Asia and up to seven countries in Africa.
5. PETANQUE TROPHY INCIDENT
In one of the biggest stories of the year, despite winning a silver trophy at the World Petanque Championships in Cambodia, athletes from Laos came home hurt by the actions of the President of the International Petanque Federation.
Ms. Bolivak Thepphakan took her team to second place in the Women’s World Championships, earning a medal for herself in the women’s shooting event, and a trophy for the Lao team.
Celebrations were stifled, however, by a bizarre incident in which the trophy for the Lao team was not presented directly to Ms. Bolivak, but instead left on the floor at her feet, mystifying and upsetting both the athletes and the audience.
The president of the International Petanque Federation contacted the Laotian Times to clarify the trophy handover incident, explaining that traditionally the protocol of the World Championships designate the presentation of medals at the podium, in line with that of the Olympic Games and the SEA Games. However, the Cambodian hosts of the championship made a sudden, last-minute change to the schedule, requesting that trophies be presented at the podium.
Other teams did indeed place their trophies on the floor, however, the photograph of the Lao team receiving the trophy at their feet was misunderstood and, taken out of context, quickly went viral.
4. E-VISA SERVICES
Laos officially launched electronic, or e-visa, services in July this year, allowing visitors to apply for a tourist visa online prior to arrival in the country.
According to the e-Visa website, payments can be made with VISA, MasterCard, JCB and UnionPay, while the e-visa will be available for use at two international ports, namely Wattay International Airport and Lao-Thai Friendship Bridge 1, using the official website.
3. MISS UNIVERSE LAOS
A lot of hype surrounded the Miss Universe contestant from Laos this year, Vichitta “May” Phonevilay, who was greeted with fanfare and applause from a crowd of primarily Lao-American fans when she arrived in Atlanta, USA, to participate in the beauty pageant.
May Vichitta, a 23-year-old native of Bolikhamxay, took to the stage at the Miss Universe Competition on December 9, becoming the third contestant from Laos to participate in the prestigious and internationally-recognized Miss Universe Competition.
2. FIRST PENAL CODE PUBLISHED
Laos officially published its Penal Code earlier this year in a move to strengthen the rule of law and access to justice in the country.
A penal code, or a criminal code, is a document that compiles all, or a significant amount of, a particular jurisdiction’s criminal law. The code typically contains offenses that are recognized in the jurisdiction, penalties which might be imposed for these offenses and some general provisions.
The enactment of the penal code means that it not only provides amendments to the Penal Law of 2005 but also incorporates the criminal provisions of twenty other laws including the enterprise law, preventing and combating violence against women and children, protection of the rights of children, healthcare law, and environmental protection law, into one code.
Many of these laws have seen increased penalties or have stipulated additional acts that constitute offenses. The penal code also includes a section that criminalizes the abuse of animals.
1. EARTHQUAKE HITS XAYABOURY
A magnitude 5.7 earthquake hit Laos in Xayaboury Province, close to the border with Thailand, in the early hours of the morning on November 21.
At approximately 4am, the magnitude 5.7 earthquake struck Laos 38km from Xayaboury town in Xayaboury Province, close to the border with Thailand, according to the US Geological Survey.
Hongsa District saw the heaviest damage, with the quake causing considerable damage to property in the district. Many villagers spent the night under makeshift tents, afraid to re-enter their homes.
Hongsa Power Company reported that their power plant located in Hongsa District was mostly unaffected, however, systems were taken offline temporarily as a safety precaution.
Tremors from the earthquake were reportedly felt as far as Vientiane and Bangkok.