In the middle of April when the westerly breezes start blowing their heat to Vietnam, we went over the mountains and rivers to Muong Lat, an impoverished district of the central province of Thanh Hoa. The path to Muong Lat is tough, with tortuous slopes and tricky trails that run along the mountains and an abyss of thick mist. Some of them have been hit by landslides and rock slides over the years, so after rains, they become almost impossible, even for experienced drivers, to pass.

Crossing over 250 km from Thanh Hoa to the northwest, Muong Lat has layer upon layer of hills and mountains, far from the small villages and houses on stilts that spring up in the middle of mountains, while endless paddy-fields loom in the clouds.

Ten Tan paddy field in Muong Lat district, central province of Thanh Hoa (Photo: Thanh Nga/VNA)

CHAPTER I

A friendship and peace frontier

In many people’s minds, as a far-flung district Muong Lat has extreme characteristics, such as the farthest district from central province of Thanh Hoa, the poorest and the area which has the longest borderline, verging with Viengxay and Sop Bao districts, Houaphanh province of Laos.  Such features are difficulties that local government and people have to overcome to not lag behind other areas of Thanh Hoa and the nation.

Poorest is understandable as almost any remote and inaccessible areas in Vietmam usually have the most impoverished districts, Muong Lat is no different. However, an uneasy thing which sticks in our minds is:  as a poor district with over 110 km borderline and six distinct ethnic groups, Thai, Mong, Kho Mu, Dao, Kinh and Muong, what solutions have the local government applied to maintain peace, and security while improving living conditions for people in the distant frontier. This is a deep thought for any Vietnamese when standing in front of a sacred border marker of the fatherland.

To raise the blockades, we visited a frontier post to meet soldiers guarding the country’s territorial integrity night and day for the sake of locals’ security and the friendship between Vietnam and Laos.

Major Trinh Xuan Hung, Deputy Chief of Ten Tan frontier post, Muong Lat district said: for generations, local compatriots of ethnic minority groupshave had very close bond with people in communes, and villages on the other side of the border. Every year during special occasions, the two local governments visit each other. Previously, such activities were only held in the internal framework of communes and districts without official agreements. In order to bolster the ties of people living along the borderline and to create favorable condition for people to travel, exchange and visit relatives, MuongLat district twinned with Laos’ ViengXay and Sop Bau districts under the agreement of High Command of Border Guard and Headquarters of Thanh Hoa province’s frontier post.

Soldiers of Ten Tan frontier post on patrol (Photo: VNA)

Border and people-to- people relations are key policies of the Party and the State. The policies have been realised creatively with several practical models by ThanhHoa province’s frontier post and they also have received a warm response from people of the two sides. Achieved outcomes not only beef up socio-economy, intensify defence- security in a border area but also help two increase people’s awareness on guidelines and policies of the two Parties and two States, effectively realising the agreement on border management signed by the two countries. As of the end of 2016, 15 pairs of villages lying on the ThanhHoa – Houaphanh borderline have been twinned.

Along the border, people of the two sides earn their living mainly from farming and cultivation. Life for most of the people here is very difficult and destitute. Poverty goes with underdevelopment; it is also a fertile environment for complicated issues, causing social disorder such as religious and spiritual exploitation as well as crime like illegal smuggling. Poverty and underdevelopment also lead to limited awareness of nation and border, therefore travelling, visiting relatives, land tilling, and marriage between the two sides sometimesviolates the law.

To solve the issues, local governments have worked with frontier soldiers to protect the borderline while supervising social order and security. The frontier forces of the two sides also proactively exchanged information and conducted joint patrols to prevent activities which violate sovereignty and other crimes, while staving off free migration and illegal religious activities.

Lao people are returning their homes via Ten Tan border post (Photo: Thanh Nga/VNA)

A special thing in Muong Lat is government and frontier forces of the two sides holding regular exchanges and helping each other to develop economy, culture and society, eradicate poverty and hunger, improve material and spiritual life, contributing to the friendship of the two countries.

On the ride with Muong Lat’s officials and frontier soldiers to Laos’ Sop Bao district on the occasion of Bunpimay,  Laos’ traditional New Year, we heard touching stories about the close-knit friendship of people in border areas of the two countries. When there is a funeral or a wedding party of Lao friend on the other side of the border, the presence of Muong Lat’s officials and people is common. Despite the fact that Muong Lat is still a poor district, the district always tries its best to support neighboring districts from providing medical pills, to electrical works, friendship houses, hospital and schools.

A story shared by Lo Van Dong, Chairman of Muong Lat district’s Fatherland Front that impressed us was when Sop Bao district lacked computers ,Muong Lat district presented a new set of computers  for the Laos district, they also sent technicians to help install the computers. A monitor broke and as sent back to MuongLat for repairs, which Vietnamese technicians fixed, and travelled nearly 50 km to return the monitor. Many similar stories have proved the trust and brotherhood relations between leaders and people of the two countries.

ChanSoan, Deputy Chairman of Sop Bao, visited communal house of Sop Hao village complex with is. The construction is joint work of  MuongLat’s government and frontier soldiers and was completed in 2016 with each brick, tile, and door delivered from Muong Lat.

Throughout our journey in Laos, we also witnessed several works built by Vietnamese frontier soldiers. Many Vietnamese – Lao families have received support from the Vietnamese army to fight poverty.

Seeing spacious, stable houses which were built by Vietnamese soldiers as well as Lao friends gave us a heart-warming feeling. Touching and pure stories about people-to-people relations or the plates saying“ Friendship house” are carved in both Vietnamese and Lao show the wholehearted and pure help of Vietnamese frontier soldiers as visible proof of the special solidarity, and friendship between the two countries in the far-flung border area. It is also a solid foundation to maintain and develop a peaceful border between the two nations.-VNA

Chapter II : Vietnamese, Lao share joy in major feast