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Monday, 17 December 2012

Laos, UNESCO discuss road to Khmer temple in southern Laos

Vat Phou temple

VIENTIANE (Vientiane Times) - Laos and UNESCO officials met in Champassak province recently to discuss the possibility of completing the construction of a road through the Vat Phou World Heritage Site, after previous plans to build the road were halted.

Deputy Minister of Information, Culture and Tourism, Mr Savankhone Razmountry, who chaired the meeting on December 7, told the Vientiane Times that the development of infrastructure was necessary to improve the living conditions of people in the area.

According to Mr Savankhone, the provincial Public Works and Transport Department and the Vat Phou Heritage Office will now undertake a detailed survey of the area, which will identify exactly which areas can and cannot be built on.

He said construction of the road would enable more domestic and foreign tourists to visit the ancient temple complex, particularly for the Vat Phou Festival in February, when thousands of people from across the country and overseas travel to the province.

The construction of Road No 14A has been stalled for some time, due to a 5km stretch of the 130km route being plotted through the Vat Phou World Heritage Site, which UNESCO does not permit.

Construction began in 2008, with the first section running through Phongthong district to the border with Cambodia.

According to the project schedule, construction of the road, including three concrete bridges, should have been finished at the end of 2011, but work was stopped when the project was only 60 percent complete and has not since resumed.

The first 25km stretch linking Phonthong district to Champassak district was completed at a cost of US$33 million.

The second section, which officials are hoping to give the go ahead on shortly, will run 35km from Champassak, and will cost about US$19 million. This phase includes the 5km stretch through Vat Phou.

The second phase was scheduled for completion by 2015, under the provision that UNESCO allowed the road to pass through the temple complex.

UNESCO has said it has no plans to allow the road to pass through the heritage site, but that alternative arrangements are being made to reroute it via the old road which runs along the Mekong River.

The alternative route will be about 2km longer than the Vat Phou route in total, and will also be narrower, with a maximum width of 7 metres as opposed to 9 metres, as several houses currently stand alongside the road.

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