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Drug control officials, diplomats visit Phongsaly

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Drug contral officials, diplomats visit Phongsaly Article from Vientiane Times
Author: Phaisythong Chandara
Published: 30/11/2009
Newspaper section: International Cooperation

Lao drug control officials, diplomats and representatives from international organisations last week visited Phongsaly province to review progress on the implementation of the Alternative Development Fund Project for former opium villages.

The visit was led by Vice Chairman of the Lao National Commission for Drug Control and Supervision (LCDC), Mr Khou Chansina, UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) representative, Mr Leik Boonwaat, and representatives of the embassies of Germany and Australia to Laos.

Mr Khou said the trip's aim was to bring together donors and other involved organisations to inspect 18 months of project implementation, where the aim is to improve livelihoods and infrastructure in 30 targeted villages - 15 villages in each of Khua and Mai districts.

Mr Khou said after the Lao government announced it had eliminated opium in 2006, the challenge was to help former opium growers and addicts access income generating alternatives to improve their living conditions and help them move out of poverty.

The project began in June last year and will run until 2010, with US$1.8 million in funding provided by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development through LCDC and UNODC.

According to a report from LCDC, the Party and government want villages to have better schools, hospitals and other basic infrastructure.

"We know many villagers are poor because they formerly grew opium poppies and we have eliminated the practice, but we are now trying to help them improve their living conditions," Mr Khou said.

Provincial officials, along with diplomats and representatives from drug control and international organisations, gathered to open an ethnic handicraft store in Khua district. The products initially offered in the shop derive from eight different ethnic groups.

The main producer village is Chabue village in Mai district, where a handicraft fund was established as a pilot project. Through the revolving fund, producers would receive a minimum price in advance, irrespective of whether their products are sold.

During the trip officials also presented funds, posters, and sports equipment to build drug free villages, to village chiefs from Phongsaly and Oudomxay provinces.

They also heard reports about the progress of the Alternative Development Fund Project for former opium villages from both province's officials.

The project in Phongsaly province is the third to be im plemented under the National Programme Strategy for the Post Opium Scenario and Related Action Plan, which targets 1,100 priority villages that were formerly involved in opium poppy cultivation.

The strategy is part of the National Economic and Social Development Plan, which focuses on poverty reduction and eradication, said Mr Khou.