The landlocked country of Laos is facing environmental threats of destructive hydropower dams and illegal logging. My story for UCANews.

Fishing in the Mekong in Laos. Photo: Chrissusieking / Flickr

Attapeu, a province in the southeast of Laos, is not a place that draws much attention. But a recent illegal logging scheme, in which a convoy of 27 trucks tried to cross into Vietnam, shone a light on it.

With illegal logging being a major problem in the country for years, the scheme itself was far from unexpected. But the consequences were. First it resulted in the removal of Nam Viyaketh as the governor of Attapeu. Then in late November the new governor assured the public that the people involved will be prosecuted, a possible game-changer in a country where illegal logging often goes unpunished.

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Pope Francis appointed Laos’ very first cardinal in the country’s history. I had the chance to meet cardinal Ling for an interview for UCANews.

Cardinal Ling in Vientiane, Laos. Photo: UCANews

In the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Vientiane a large banner is hard to miss.

The “17 Martyrs of Laos” banner hangs from the ceiling of Vientiane’s only Catholic church and commemorates a group of Catholics, including several priests, who died between 1954 and 1970 in a crackdown on the religious by the communist government.

Each year, on Dec. 16, Louis-Marie Ling Mangkhanekhoun, 73, makes sure that the martyrs are not forgotten. “We remember them with a ceremony, because they were a witness to the faith,” Ling said inside the cathedral.

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Environmental issues threaten sustainability of Tonle Sap Lake which a million Cambodians depend on for their livelihoods. My story for UCANews.

The great Tonlé Sap Lake is under threat. Photo: Ate Hoekstra

It’s peacefully quiet on the shores of Sang Vor, a small village in Cambodia’s Kandal province. A soft breeze blows over the Tonle Sap Lake; the sunlight is harsh.

Nom Khim, a local fisherman, looks out over the lake and points towards a small boat anchored to the shore. It’s that kind of boat he uses every day to go out fishing, the 40-year-old Cambodian says. “The best time to go fishing is during the Water Festival, in November. During that time, I go out day and night. It is then when you catch the most fish.”

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Over the past few years a growing number of Cambodians have turned to Christianity and left Buddhism. For UCANews I went out to find them.

Photo: Alexmontjohn / Flickr

Sok Sophon was a battle-hardened Khmer Rouge commander when he found Jesus.

The now 63-year-old Cambodian was visiting a refugee camp, when a wounded soldier gave him a Bible. At first he was reluctant but did take it.

Then after reading from the Bible the officer of the Pol Pot regime got interested and visited a church service. “I remember who the first time I made a detour to get to the church,” he says. “I didn’t want people to know. I felt ashamed for going there.”

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