Emphasizing ‘Building Strong Cross-Border Communities’ for Sustainable Security Solutions.

The Department of Provincial Administration, Ministry of the Interior of Thailand is taking the lead in organizing the 2nd “Mekong Linkage workshop: Connecting Nations, Linking People” project, focusing on Thai-Lao relations. This initiative is part of the project “Enhancing People-to-People Connectivity to Address Non-traditional Security (NTS) Challenges in the Mekong Region. The event took place from September 4th to 8th, 2023, in Ubon Ratchathani and the twin city, Champasak, with the participation of 90 individuals from both Thai and Lao sides. The participants include operational-level administrative officials from both Thai and Laos side, such as district Chief  officers, District chief assistant, sub-district headmen, and village headmen.

The Thai side encompasses border areas in 6 provinces and 15 districts: Bueng Kan (Muang Bueng Kan, Bung Khla), Nakhon Phanom (Ban Phaeng, Muang Nakhon Phanom, Tha Uthen, That Phanom), Nong Khai (Rattanawapi), Mukdahan (Muang Mukdahan), Amnat Charoen (Chanuman), and Ubon Ratchathani (Khemarat, Na Tan, Pho Sai, Khong Chiam, Sirindhorn, Buntharik).

On the Lao side (Southern), the participating border areas included 5 districts and 13 towns: Bolikhamxai (Muang Pakxan, Pakkading Tha Pha Bat), Khammouane (Muang Thakhek,Hineboune ,Nong Bok) Savannakhet, (Kaysone Phomvihaane, Xayphouthong) Salavan (Muang Lakhonpheng, Khongxedon), Champasak (Sanasomboun,Phonthong, Soukhoumma)

The workshop, supported by the 6th Mekong-ROK Cooperation Fund (MKCF) and managed by the Department of Local Administration, Ministry of the Interior, Thailand, and the Mekong Institute (MI), aims to enhance collaboration among district chiefs, officers, and community leaders. The objectives include strengthening the roles of local officials and elevating cooperation mechanisms to address emerging security challenges, focusing on issues like human trafficking and illegal migration.

The meeting had adopted the format of the 1st  workshop (Thai- Laos (Northern-Central) meeting, featuring training on the first day to enhance the capabilities of Thai local officials. This training aims to provide up-to-date knowledge on the new security paradigm in border areas and effective border management strategies. The event seeks to inspire and empower officials to become change agents and heroes in addressing NTS effectively.

Following this, the Thai local government leaders crossed over to Pakse City, Champasak District, staying at the Champasak Grand Hotel to officially open the Mekong Linkage workshop :  Connecting Nations, Linking People Thailand-Laos (Southern). Mr. Somsak Charoenpaitoon, Deputy Director-General of DOPA, had the honor of presiding over the opening ceremony. Mr. Som Budtakun, Deputy District Chief of Champasak, welcomed everyone as the host. Representatives from various ministries of Laos, Royal Thai Consulate-General, Savannakhet, Laotian Consulate Khon Kaen,  Mrs. Wijaraporn Amatyakul, the  director  of Technical and Plan Bureau, DOPA,  the scholars from National University of Laos, Ubon Ratchathani University, as well as other distinguished individuals, also attended the ceremony. Additionally, there were stage discussion activities and a workshop under the theme “Connecting Nations, Linking People : Strengthen People to People connectivity in Thai-Lao Border Areas.”

Moreover, the project organized the workshop for brainstorming and conduct a SWOT analysis to analyze strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats to Thai-Lao (Southern) relations at the local level. This marked the first official opportunity for leaders from both sides to discuss various issues comprehensively, seeking collaboration for future endeavors. The areas were divided into 14 groups, corresponding to the opposing districts along the border, facilitating close discussions. The districts and corresponding cities are as follows:

  1. Mueang Bueng Kan District, Bung Kan Province – Mueang Pak San, Boli khamsai District
  2. Bung Khla District, Bueng Kan Province – Mueang Pak Kading, Boli khamsai District
  3. Ban Phaeng District, Nakhon Phanom Province – Mueang Pak Kading, Boli khamsai District
  4. Mueang Nakhon Phanom District – Mueang Tha Khaek City, Khammouane District
  5. That Phanom District, Nakhon Phanom Province – Mueang Nong Bok,  Khammouane District
  6. Tha Uthen District, Nakhon Phanom Province – Mueang Hin Bun, Khammouane District
  7. Rattanawapi District, Nong Khai Province – Mueang Tha Pha Bat, Boli khamsai District
  8. Mueang Mukdahan District – Mueang Kaysone Phomvihane, Savannakhet  District
  9. Chanuman District, Amnat Charoen Province – Mueang Xayphouthong, Savannakhet District
  10. Khamarat District, Ubon Ratchathani Province – Mueang Songkhon, Savannakhet District
  11. Na Tan District, Ubon Ratchathani Province – Mueang  Lakhonepheng, Salavan District
  12. Pho Sai District, Ubon Ratchathani Province – Mueang Lakhonepheng, Salavan District
  13. Khong Chiam District, Ubon Ratchathani Province – Mueang Khongsedone, Salavan District, and Mueang Sanasomboun, Champasak District
  14. Sirindhorn and Buntharik Districts, Ubon Ratchathani Province – Mueang Phon Thong and Mueang  Soukhoumma, Champasak District

Through the results of discussions, it was summarized that both bordering areas found strengths in the Thai-Laos South border. There are cultural similarities, a shared language, a common source of livelihood from fishing in the Mekong River, and familial relationships. However, weaknesses were identified, particularly related to illegal activities in the border areas, such as motorcycle smuggling, drug trafficking, and illegal migration.

Moreover, the project arranged a visit to the Champask District office, where Mr. Wannasa Sai Satakun, Provincial Secretary of Champasak, warmly welcomed participants and provided initial insights into Champasak District. This presentation highlighted the strong bond between Champasak District and the Thai-Laos border. Subsequently, Mr. Udomsak Naulsiri, the District Chief of Khong Chiam in Ubon Ratchathani Province, expressed gratitude and extended greetings to the attendees, comprising local officers from both Thai and Laos sides. The ambiance was convivial, fostering the establishment of robust connections among leaders, with a total of 90 participants.

Following that, a site visit was organized to fortify relationships among local leaders from both nations. The excursion included exploring prominent tourist destinations in Pakse City, including the Vat Phou Temple Complex, a recognized heritage site of Lao PDR, and the Bolaven Plateau. This provided an opportunity for participants to familiarize themselves with each other and participate in candid discussions, thereby enriching mutual understanding and cultivating stronger connections.

The meeting concluded with a summary emphasizing the direction of “Building Strong Cross-Border Communities ” encouraging residents on both sides of the border to learn each other’s laws and regulations, as well as promoting the use of ethics and morals in decision-making regarding healthcare challenges and the difficulties faced by the people. Exemptions included criminal acts such as drug-related offenses, human trafficking, arms trafficking, and other intolerable offenses. The enforcement of laws should be impartial, ensuring equal penalties for those who violate them. This serves as a crucial starting point for building trust and fostering close communication in the future.