Concern grows as Laos denies knowledge of missing activist
December 19, 2012 00:00 By SUPALAK GANJANAKHUNDEE
Lao authorities said yesterday they were not aware of the disappear?ance of high-profile Lao Magsaysay award-winner, Som-bath Somphone, who went miss?ing on his way home from his office in Vientiane last Saturday.
Social activist Sombath was last seen when he left the office by car at around 5pm in the Lao capital.
Family members said he had not returned home and they had no information on his whereabouts.
Sombath, founder and former director of the Participatory Development Training Centre, is respected in the field of education and development as a result of his work.
He received the international Ramon Magsaysay award in 2005 for community leadership.
A group of Thai civil-society organisations yesterday sent an urgent letter to several agencies in Vientiane, including the PM’s Office, the National Assembly, the Foreign Ministry and Public Security Ministry, requesting an investigation into his disappear?ance.
“We, civil-society organisations in Thailand, urge concerned Lao authorities to take every urgent action with regard to Sombath’s disappearance. We look forward to hearing that all necessary efforts are made to search for his where?abouts and investigate the cause of his disappearance,” the letter read.
Thais acquainted with Sombath have found the news shocking and are now concerned about his safe?ty, said the letter signed by 61 non-government organisations.
Speaking from Vientiane, a sen?ior official at the Lao Foreign Ministry said his agency had not been informed about Sombath’s disappearance.
His family members said they had already informed local police about his disappearance and believe that he might be in the cus?tody of an unknown state agency because of his high-profile work.
Human-rights activists in Thailand who know Sombath believe he might have some conflict with the Lao state authorities, as he has opposed many government development projects with a seri?ous social or environmental impact.
Laos, which has been under communist rule since 1975, limits the number and role of civic groups and non-government organisa?tions, which in recent years have been active in a number of fields, notably development and environ?mental conservation.