Laos is aiming to get its Plain of Jars archeological landscape inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage list as early as 2015 but has to grapple with requirements to upgrade infrastructure facilities for tourists visiting the site, officials say.
The plateau, in northern Laos’s Xiangkhoang province, has over 90 sites scattered with one- to three-meter (three- to 10-foot) high ancient stone jars that archeologists say were used in burial practices in the Iron Age.
It is already one of the biggest tourist attractions in Laos, which this year is conducting a “Visit Laos 2012” campaign.
"Now we are getting ready and planning to get the status in 2015 or 2016,” a Xiangkhoang province official, who did not wish to be named, said last week.
But he admitted there were challenges before the area could qualify for World Heritage Site status, including improvement of roads, hotels, and tourist facilities.
“The services to tourists and safety are still inadequate,” he said.
"It's difficult to build more roads, and especially a larger airport. In order to be approved [as] a World Heritage site, the Plain of Jars has to have a better airport."
Laos named the area to its “tentative list” for nomination to World Heritage Site status in 1992, but the site has not yet been named to list alongside the country’s two other sites, the town of Luang Prabang in the north and the Vat Phou temple complex in southern Laos.
Lao officials have said for the past several years that they are preparing the nomination dossier for the Plain of Jars, but have not said whether they will be submitting it for review at the next meeting of the UNESCO committee in St. Petersburg, Russia, in June.
“All the sites which are on the tentative list have the potential of being inscribed,” said Roni Amelan, a spokesman from the UNESCO World Heritage Centre.
“But the considerations which come into play in determining whether a site is inscribed or not include not only that the site itself is of ‘outstanding universal value,’ but also … that it has a sustainable management plan to ensure the preservation of these qualities.”
If a site on a country’s “tentative list” is not accepted after being submitted to the UNESCO committee, the committee can recommend changes, such as to the site’s management plan or to the boundaries of the area included in the site.
“The logic of the inscription process … is also to ensure the preservation of the site,” Amelan said.
Since 1998, UNESCO and the Lao government have worked on clearing unexploded ordnance hazards in the area, preventing soil erosion, and surveying and mapping the area, among other initiatives, through a joint “Safeguarding the Plain of Jars” program.
Laos already has two World Heritage Sites, including its biggest tourist attraction, the town of Luang Prabang in northern Laos, which was inscribed on the list in 1995.
Vat Phou, a ruined Khmer temple complex in southern Laos’s Champasak province, was designated a World Heritage Site in 2001.
Reported by RFA’s Lao service. Translated by Max Avary. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.