EXPLOSION REPORTED IN LAO CAPITAL


2004.02.05
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BANGKOK�Sources in Laos report another explosion in the capital, Vientiane, RFA�s Lao service reports. No deaths or injuries have been confirmed.

The blast occurred just before 6 p.m. Feb. 4, near the Patouxay monument in central Vientiane, sources said. Police immediately cordoned off the area to search for evidence and question witnesses. Lao authorities believe it was a time-bomb explosion.

The explosion came during a meeting in Vientiane of tourism ministers and officials from ASEAN countries along with China, Japan, and South Korea.

No comment from local authorities and no further details were immediately available. Patouxay, known as Vientiane's Arc de Triomphe after the larger version in Paris, is located near the city's main boulevards and government offices.

In October, three similar explosions occurred in Vientiane�the last, on Oct. 31, 2003�also came at about 6 p.m. near the Patouxay monument. No casualties were reported.

�I think this was done to embarrass the Lao government. There have been a string of incidents and attacks in Laos that have cause countries such as Australia and the U.S. to issue travel advisories," one foreign diplomat told RFA's Lao service.

Hours after RFA�s initial reporting on the blast, two official Lao newspapers� Vientiane Mai and Pathet Lao �quoted Lao security officials who claimed the noise originated with firecrackers set off by delinquent children. The officials said they are looking for the children responsible for the offense so they can scold them.

One foreign analyst dismissed that explanation as �not very credible� There no way that noise could be firecrackers.�

In December 2000, Laos hosted an ASEAN-EU ministerial meeting when a similar explosion took place near the Parliament house in Vientiane. The Lao government at the time denied report that it was a bomb, saying first that it was a gas tank that exploded and then saying it was a bomb left over by the U.S. from the war in Vietnam. #####

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