Sunday, May 18, 2014

Laos Declares Days of Mourning After Plane Crash: Major Impact on Lao Regime Is Unlikely, Says Analyst

The Wall Street Journal 
By  Nopparat Chaichalearmmongkol
Updated May 18, 2014 7:29 a.m. ET

BANGKOK—Laos declared three days of mourning through Monday after a Saturday plane crash killed a number of senior government ministers and officials, including Defense Minister Douangchay Phichit, but an analyst predicted there would be no serious impact on the communist government.

The official Lao News Agency published a government announcement confirming the deaths of Mr. Phichit, who was also a deputy prime minister, Minister of Public Security Thongbanh Sengaphone, Cheuang Sombounkhanh, secretary of the ruling communist Lao People's Revolutionary Party, and Soukanh Mahalath, the mayor of Vientiane, the capital.

The cause of the accident is under investigation, the statement said. It didn't specify the number of passengers aboard the Antonov 74TK-300 aircraft or details about other casualties. The news agency has published several photos of the accident.

Landlocked Laos is one of Asia's most secretive countries and remains under the heavy hand of communist rule, which was enforced by some of the people aboard the plane. The regime deals harshly with dissent and doesn't face a visibly large and organized opposition, though ethnic groups with ties outside the country are repeatedly accused of trying to foment unrest.

Panitan Wattanayagorn, a lecturer in international relations at Chulalongkorn University in Thailand, said that the loss of the senior officials will unlikely cause any serious impact in the ruling party because of the strong control it exercises among its members.

"The latest accident may lead to changes within the structure of the ruling party, and the government, as some senior and older members with alleged corruption and family issues may be replaced with younger people whose reputation and background are better," Prof. Panitan said.

Any shake-up in the leadership of Laos's accident-prone aviation would likely be done quietly in a regime that strongly controls the flow of information, he said.

The plane crashed at 7 a.m. local time in Nadee village in the Paek district of Xiangkhouang province, the prime minister's office said Saturday, about 435 kilometers (270 miles) northeast of Vientiane, near the Plain of Jars. The area suffered heavy bombing during the Vietnam War.

Officials in neighboring Thailand said the plane was carrying 18 people and crashed into a forest after it lost control as it was descending. It was bringing passengers to mark the 55th anniversary of a military victory against royalist forces.

Thailand and Laos share a long border and work closely on combating drug trafficking and illegal immigration.

The latest fatal aviation incident follows a Lao Airlines plane crash in October, near Pakse Airport in the southern part of the country, during a heavy storm that killed all 49 people on board.

—Wilawan Watcharasakwet contributed to this article. 


Antonov 74TK-300,  RDPL-34020,  Laos Government

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