Friday, January 11, 2008

Sweden to wind up aid programs in Laos

Sweden to wind up aid programs in Laos

Sweden will shut down its embassy in Vientiane by the middle of August, when bilateral cooperation on development in Laos and Swedish would start to wind down, a diplomat said Tuesday.

Lao-Swedish development cooperation, begun in 1974, would be phased out over the next four years, said Jorgen Persson, Counsellor at the Swedish Embassy in Laos.

The embassy, which functions mainly to facilitate assistance programs, would be conฌverted to a section office focusฌing only on phasing out development assistance, he said.

The section office, to be run by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), would be on duty until August 15 and the embassy's consulate functions such as issuing visas would end on the same date, he said.

The Swedish Embassy in Bangkok would take care of diplomatic relations between Laos and Sweden, he said.

The Swedish government was looking for other European countries in the Schengen system to be responsible for visa matters, he added.

Speaking in a phone interview from Vientiane, Persson said the 34 year-old Lao-Swedish development program was ending, because Stockholm wanted to shift its development cooperation focus.

Stockholm wanted to reduce the number of countries in its aid cooperation program from 70 currently to 33.

"There are other countries where the Swedish government would have a comparative advantage, such as in Africa, so the focus is very much on Africa rather than Asia," Persson said.

Sweden is the fourth largest donor to Laos after Japan, France and Germany. The annual budget for Swedish aid is about US$20-25 million (Bt595 million).

Most of the resources have been put toward education, roads, and natural resources. Governance and human rights were also included, Persson said.

"I think it is safe to say there has been definite results from cooperation, both in strengthฌening Lao institutions, as well as infrastructure," he said.

By Supalak Ganjanakhundee

The Nation

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