​Ansari holds talks with Laos leadership, air pact inked ?

Vientiane: India and Laos today agreed to bolster their economic engagement and signed an air services agreement after Vice President Hamid Ansari held extensive talks with the top Laotian leadership to strengthen India's linkages with the ASEAN.

Ansari, who arrived here yesterday for a two-day visit, the first by an Indian Vice President to this country, held talks with his counterpart Bounnhang Vorachith at the presidential palace after which delegation-level parleys took place.

Two MoUs, including one on "quick impact projects" and another on the Air Services Agreement, which allows airlines from both countries to operate direct flights between the two countries if they want to, were signed after the talks.

"The Air Services Agreement between India and Lao is an important development because it takes some amount of pressure from the fact that we had nothing in terms of a formal document to start direct flights between India and Lao PDR. It was very badly needed," Secretary (East), Ministry of External Affairs, Anil Wadhwa told reporters.

"I think there was more demand from Laos' travellers who want to go into the Buddhist circuit especially Bodh Gaya and New Delhi. The Lao Airlines would be seriously looking at that proposition in the coming days. We would also be exploring this with our own airlines in the future," he said.

He said India would be looking at working on this not only with Air India but also with private airlines.

The second MoU was an umbrella agreement on "quick impact projects" under the Mekong Ganga Cooperation. Each of these projects is USD 50,000.

Laos had proposed three projects in the agriculture sector relating to firstly the establishment of a national bio-fertilizer production centre, promotion of Indian goats and sheep in Laos and third in the integrated spices and grapes cultivation.

These three projects were approved in principle, Wadhwa said.

During the talks, extremism and terrorism was also discussed and both sides agreed to step up cooperation bilaterally and also in multilateral fora like ASEAN.

Asked whether there was any discussion about fake currency racket and other illicit crime directed at India using ASEAN countries' land, Wadhwa said security was discussed and it was agreed that cooperation and exchanges in this area need to be stepped up.

The Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) comprises Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

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