France to help protect Laos’ cultural heritage

VIENTIANE (Vientiane Times/ANN) - A French aid organisation has expressed its intention to help the Lao government protect heritage sites and infrastructure in Savannakhet and Champassak provinces.

Director General of the Heritage Department, under the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism, Mr Thongbay Phothisan, said yesterday that Agence Francaise De Developpement (AFD) has sent a team of French experts to Laos to set up a project that will preserve some of Laos’ oldest and most important buildings.  

“We completed a session with Champassak officials yesterday. Today, we will have more talks with Savannakhet officials,” Mr Thongbay said, adding that the discussions are aimed at ensuring that the two sides agree on the parameters and scope of the project.

Mr Thongbay told Vientiane Times in a telephone interview from Savannakhet that the main focus of the project will be on restoring and maintaining temples, houses and French colonial buildings that are of cultural significance in the two provinces. 

Provincial authorities had expressed strong initial support for the heritage protection concept and the proposal that the French help with the work, he said, adding that the project would help to create areas of special charm and interest to visitors.

Savannakhet and Champassak provinces are home to many old Lao-style temples, as well as French colonial buildings. These structures have historical and cultural value for local people as well as being of interest to overseas visitors.

But many of the oldest buildings in these provinces are run down and at risk of oblivion because the government lacks the funds and technical expertise to properly maintain them. The government hopes French support will enable the restoration of these time-worn structures.

According to Mr Thongbay, if everything goes according to plan the project will be ready for implementation at the beginning of 2020. An initial budget of 6 million euro had been proposed but a formal agreement had yet to be reached.

The main focus of the project will be the provision of technical support to Lao authorities in the areas of human resource development and organisational capacity building so that heritage protection laws can be properly designed and enforced.

The protection of ancient temples and colonial buildings benefits the tourism industry.  The government has a strong interest in building a sustainable tourism industry and welcomes support for this strategy.