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New Australian aid pledge for Laos



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M ED IA RELEASE MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS ALEXANDER DOWNER

AA31 7 May 1998

NEW AUSTRALIAN AID PLEDGE FOR LAOS

I am pleased to announce a new four-year $56 million program of development assistance for Laos.

This assistance will be provided in the period 1998/1999 to 2001/2002, following the completion in June this year of the current four-year aid pledge of $47.5 million.

The Lao Charge d’Affaires a.i., Mr Simangkhala Souvanankhily, warmly welcomed the renewal of the pledge during my meeting with him this morning.

There is a legacy of enormous physical and social damage caused by decades of conflict in the countries of the Mekong region. Reducing poverty is still the fundamental challenge facing Laos and the current Asian financial crisis has placed additional pressures on the Lao economy.

The Australian program of assistance focuses on education, health and rural development and governance activities, with special emphasis on reducing mortality among mothers and infants. At present more than one in ten children bom in Laos will die before their first birthday.

The new pledge will allow the continued support of projects targeted at long-term poverty reduction. Two important areas of concern are the promotion of primary education for mral women and girls - half of all Lao women cannot read or write - and the clearing of unexploded bombs. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Laos

suffered perhaps the heaviest air bombing in history. Much of this ordnance is still intact in the ground causing death and suffering.

Australia will also continue to focus strongly on supporting activities that help mitigate the effects of the current economic crisis.

Australia and Laos have a unique history of continuous diplomatic relations spanning more than 40 years. This new and increased pledge is tangible evidence of Australia’s strong commitment to Laos.

Media contacts: Innes Willox (Minister’s office) 02 6277 7500 / 0411 414 695 Michelle Hardy (AusAID) 02 6206 4968/0417 680 590