The Ministry of Planning and Investment and the French Development Agency (AFD) have launched a joint project for preserving and enhancing Laos heritage in southern Champasak and Savannakhet provinces.

The ceremony for the signing of a financing agreement worth €2.64 million for the Cultural Heritage Management, Preservation and Territorial Attractiveness (Champa) Project was held at the ministry recently.

The event was chaired by Deputy Minister of Planning and Investment Dr Kikeo Chanthaboury, AFD country director for Laos Matthieu Bommier and French Ambassador to Laos Florence Jeanblanc-Risler. It was attended by representatives of concerned line ministries, and officials of Champasak and Savannakhet provinces, AFD and the French embassy.

Dr Kikeo said: “AFD has been a long-standing development partner of the Lao PDR, providing a total of more than €150 million since 1994.

“The Champa Project is a welcome addition to the bilateral portfolio and further reinforces AFD’s position as one of the main contributors to the socio-economic development of the Lao PDR, particularly in the area of cultural and heritage preservation.”

Wat Phou in Champasak, the second site in Laos to be classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001, is home to heritage treasures – archaeological, architectural, intangible and natural – that are still unknown to visitors.

Champasak – the former capital of the Kingdom of Champasak – covers an area of 15,415sq km and borders Cambodia along Choam Ksan and Chheb districts in Preah Vihear province, as well as Thala Barivat and Siem Pang districts and Stung Treng town in Stung Treng province.

Champasak district derives limited benefit from this cultural and natural capital, as a majority of visitors do not spend time there. Savannakhet, the most populated province in the country, is still not a popular tourist destination.

However, it has untapped potential based on a wide variety of historical attractions, including heritage treasures from the period of the Sikhottaboon Empire (from the 7th to the 10th century), which are not visible to the public today.

To popularise these attractions, AFD and the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism have designed the Champa Project worth €6 million.

The project will be implemented by Lao authorities, including the World Heritage Site Office of Wat Phou and the Savannakhet provincial Department of Information, Culture and Tourism, and the Ecole Francaise d’Extreme Orient (EFEO).

Under the project, tourism development plans will be drawn up to create genuine tourist destinations that will encourage visitors to extend their stay and thus develop economic benefits for local populations, particularly through the creation of jobs.

The treasure of Savannakhet will be showcased in a renovated museum. In addition, the project will provide the local people with improved public spaces, and support local territorial dynamics through a call for projects from associative and private actors.

A first agreement signed between AFD and EFEO on February 10 covers the execution of the first campaign of research and archaeological excavation in Champasak.

AFD and the planning ministry have signed the financing agreement of €2.64 million for cultural and heritage preservation and tourism promotion activities.

The French Ambassador said: “France and Laos share a long history around cultural heritage in Laos. I believe that a better knowledge of Lao heritage by the Lao people contributes to the national identity.”

AFD’s Bommier said: “After 20 years of successful cooperation to preserve and enhance cultural heritage in Luang Prabang, AFD is pleased to engage further in some less known sites of Champasak and Savannakhet.

“We believe tripartite cooperation between AFD, Lao authorities and EFEO will be very valuable to improve the knowledge and preservation of the unique culture and heritage of Champasak and Savannakhet, and to help the tourism sector recover steadily and sustainably after the current crisis.”