09/17/2014, 00.00
LAOS
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Laos follows China's example to curb NGOs

Like mainland China, Laos plans to restrict foreign donations and place non-governmental organisations under Foreign Ministry control, raising concerns among NGOs and Western diplomats.

Vientiane (AsiaNews/AsiaNews) - NGOs and Western diplomats fear that new Chinese-style curbs on NGOs will threaten the development of Laos and its people. Two decrees are especially disconcerting.

The first one places foreign NGOs under the supervision of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, mirroring a similar law approved in Russia in 2012, whereby international NGOs are seen as "foreign agents."

The second decree on local non-profit groups imposes restrictions on their ability to receive overseas funding and donations. All non-profit groups would have to report any donation greater than 50 million kip (US$ 6,250) to the Ministry of Finance.

Foreign donations higher than 100 million kip (US$ 12,500) would need approval from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Finance, and the Department of Home Affairs.

The same decree also limits the activity of domestic non-profit groups to providing "support" in the fields of agriculture, education, public health, sport, science, and humanitarian benefits.

This has raised concerns among Western embassies in Vientiane. NGOs play a significant role in Laos, which has been ruled by the Lao People's Revolutionary Party since 1975, because of its extremely small civil society compared to other Southeast Asian nations. Indeed, the country has the dubious distinction of being the least developed among the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Despite opening its doors to foreign investment from Vietnam, Thailand, and China, its GDP is just US$ 9.2 billion - five times smaller than Myanmar (where a military junta recently gave up power), and 40 times smaller than Thailand.

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