Two staff members from the U.S. Congress House Foreign Affairs Committee visited Vientiane from January 22 to 24 to meet with senior Lao government officials and development partners to discuss wildlife trafficking. Mr. Worku Gachou and Mr. Brent Woolfork used their visit to learn about the status of Lao efforts to counter transnational wildlife trafficking. Their visit demonstrates the United States’ commitment to providing assistance to Laos and its desire to maintain the momentum of growing closeness in the relationship between the two nations.
During their visit, the staff members visited the NGO ACRES at the Lao zoo to learn about programs to rehabilitate trafficked animals. They also discussed how to best cooperate with the government of Lao PDR to halt the trade in illicit wildlife products. In particular, they discussed ways to help dismantle Xaysavang Network, one of the most prolific wildlife trafficking syndicates in operation. The increasing involvement of transnational criminal organizations in wildlife trafficking promotes corruption, threatens the rule of law, and destabilizes economies and communities that depend on wildlife for biodiversity and eco-tourism revenues.
The Xaysavang network is a trans-boundary criminal network that affects both ASEAN and the global community, and facilitates the killing of endangered elephants, rhinos, pangolins, and other species. News reports in international media have stated that part of the network is based in Laos, with affiliates in South Africa, Mozambique, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, and China. The reports also identified Vixay Keosavang as the leader of the Xaysavang network. The United States will pay a reward for information leading to the arrest or conviction of significant transnational organized criminals related to this network, or for information leading to the disruption of their activities.
The staff delegation met with Ministry of Foreign Affairs Director General for Europe and the Americas Southam Sakoniyom to discuss the many areas of bilateral cooperation between the U.S. and the Lao PDR, in particular around wildlife trafficking. They also met with officials from the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, Ministry of Public Security, Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, Department of Customs, and the National Assembly.