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Monday, October 1, 2007

UNESCO to review Luang Prabang's World Heritage status

UNESCO will send officials to Luang Prabang next month to see whether the town still warrants its World Heritage status, according to a senior official.

The head of the Luang Prabang Heritage Office, Ms Manivone Thoummabouth, said last week that the team of inspectors would arrive in Luang Prabang early next month, and will work there for two weeks to review all heritage sites in a routine inspection.

“They will come with a checklist to ensure all listed building and artefacts have remained intact in the 10 years since the town was listed as a World Heritage Site,” she said in a telephone interview with Vientiane Times.

She said the inspection was not unexpected, because UNESCO inspects all sites 10 years after they have been granted World Heritage status.

She added that UNESCO had proposed an inspection of the town last year. “Lao government and UNESCO officials reached an agreement on a deadline for the Luang Prabang inspection in August during a meeting in Switzerland ,” she said.

Ms Manivone said the team of inspectors had extensive knowledge of World Heritage Sites and remained independent from all state organisations.

UNESCO has removed certain sites from the World Heritage list in the past, including the city of Chiang Mai in Thailand , which was unable to maintain its sites due to rapid development.

Ms Manivone said she had a strong belief that the results of this year's inspection would be positive, because over the past 10 years local authorities have “done an excellent job in maintaining the area”.

She explained that many of the town's temples and houses were in the same condition as they were 10 years ago, and all renovations had been carried out carefully, in accordance with heritage guidelines.

She also said that while local architecture had been preserved, Luang Prabang residents had continued to maintain their traditional lifestyles; women still wear the traditional Lao skirt when offering alms to monks in the early mornings, an example of the many traditions that have largely disappeared in Asia .

Ms Manivone said the Lao government has always been intent on protecting its places of cultural heritage as they reflect the unique Lao culture, and help to boost the tourism industry.

“Many tourists come to Luang Prabang because of its World Heritage status,” she said, adding that this has led to more jobs and better incomes for local people.

(Latest Update October 02, 2007)

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