Anand urges Vientiane to find Sombath
Says fellow Magsaysay recipient's disappearance 'bad for region'
Former prime minister Anand Panyarachun has appealed to the Laotian government to do more to locate missing activist Sombath Somphone, who disappeared in Vientiane nearly a month ago.
Anand, who attended the launch of a film at the Bangkok Arts Centre on Thursday evening, said he did not want to speculate on the circumstances of the disappearance of Sombath, who exiles claim was abducted by government officials after being stopped at a police checkpoint in the Laotian capital.
But he urged Vientiane to do more to investigate, saying the 60-year-old social activist was a "very good man".
Speaking during a debate on reconciliation televised by Thai PBS after the film screening, Anand said the disappearance of Sombath was bad for the region. "I hope the Laotian government will assume a more active role in finding out the truth of this particularly unwelcome event," he said.
"It does touch on the value of human rights. There are disappearances [when people go missing] and enforced disappearances [when people may have been seized by the state].
"You can't have enforced disappearances - it's not something we like in this part of the world."
The remarks by Anand are among the strongest yet by supporters in Thailand and throughout the region, and add to growing pressure on Laos' communist regime to come up with a more credible response on this matter.
The circumstances of Sombath's disappearance were revealed on a closed-circuit video widely circulated on social media. It shows his jeep stopping at a police checkpoint on December 15, before the activist is led away by two figures in plain clothes.
Vientiane has denied any knowledge of the affair, but Lao exiles say the incident fits a pattern of harassment of activists by the regime, which has a poor human-rights record and is notoriously secretive.
Fears have also been voiced privately by supporters that Sombath has a health condition that could be aggravated if he is being detained secretly somewhere.
This week, former Thai senator Jon Ungpakorn called for an end to Asean's policy of non-interference at a seminar that highlighted Sombath's abduction.
"I feel that answers are needed," Jon said. "The government has the responsibility to answer questions as to what has happened to him. The government of the Lao PDR [People's Democratic Republic] is not really taking up this responsibility."
Both Jon and Anand are former Magsaysay Award winners, as is Sombath, who won the award in 2005 for community leadership.
Sombath headed the Participatory Development Training Centre and was well known for building up civil society independent of government and opposing the Laotian government's views on how development should occur, especially large infrastructure projects like the Xayaburi Dam.
Jon, who was a senator from 2000 to 2006, said the abduction of Sombath was a vital test for Asean's new human-rights mechanism.
Rights activists warned yesterday that they would continue to lobby Laos' leaders because they believe the regime knows more about the incident but has refused to disclose details publicly.
Anand, who was prime minister twice for short periods in the early 1990s, is one of the region's most distinguished statesman. His remarks followed a discussion about reconciliation after the screening of the film "Cambodia Dreams" by veteran filmmaker Stanley Harper at the Arts Centre yesterday.