Ravic R. Huso, the new U.S. ambassador to Laos, discussed US-Laos relations and cooperation in an exclusive interview with VOA. The ambassador says Laos and the U.S. have differences but overall bilateral relations are good:
"We do have differences. We have differences over human rights. We do have some concerns that we've expressed to the Lao, in the areas of human rights and religious freedoms, and in the protection of their ethnic minorities. But overall, we enjoy good constructive relations with the Lao government, and I look forward to the opportunity to advance that relationship."
Mr. Huso also says he intends to work very hard with the Lao government to help its effort to join the World Trade Organization:
"I think the NTR(Normal Trade Relations) has provided an important basis for economic engagement between Laos and the United States. I understand, also, that the Lao government is very interested in pursuing membership in the World Trade Organization. One element in pursuing membership in the World Trade Organization would be negotiating with the United States, our position on their entry. So, I look forward to the opportunity to take the NTR and try to move it forward, in other words, try to find ways that we can work together to develop the underlying conditions that would create opportunities and make Laos attractive to US investors. I think that can be done and I intend to work very hard to make that possible."
The U.S. has good cooperation with the Lao government in a number of important areas. One of which is the effort to achieve the fullest possible accounting of American servicemen who were missing in action during the Indochina conflict. The U.S. ambassador says another legacy of that conflict is the unexploded ordnance that remains in Laos and constitutes a continuing threat to the safety and welfare of the Lao people. So the United States has worked with the international community and the Lao government to address this problem.
In the past, the U.S. had provided cash and equipment assistance, as well as training, to UXO-Lao to support its work. One recent example of US assistance in this area is the donation on July 10 of 50 new unexploded ordnance detectors and $87,000 for program support to UXO-Lao by the American embassy in Vientiane.
The new US ambassador to Laos declines to comment on the case of the arrest of the Hmong leader, former General Vang Pao. But he says that it is the United States government to pursue constructive relations with the government of Laos, and as a matter of principle and a matter of policy, the U.S. is opposed to any acts of violence against a friendly government, as is the case in Laos.
Mr. Ravic Huso also tells VOA that he looks forward to meeting members of the Lao-American community:
"One of the thing I intend to do, and I look forward to doing is meeting with members of the Lao-American community, be they ethnic Lao, be they ethnic Hmong, whatever their origins, to better understand their views and their concerns. And, at the first opportunity, I intend to do so. Regarding the question of the Hmong who are in Thailand, the United States has had a long record of accepting refugees from Laos, to the United States. The particular case that you just mentioned is one between the government of Thailand and the government of Laos, to resolve. The US government does have an interest in this case and has been engaged in discussions with the Thai, regarding our position. But at this point, as the Ambassador to Laos, and because this issue rests with another country, although I am concerned by it, I cannot really comment on any possible outcomes."
Listen to our audio files for Lao translation of Mr. Huso's comments.