Speculation over disappearance
When Laotian Magsaysay award winner Sombath Somphone, 60, went missing on December 15 while driving home from his office, there was a lot of speculation over the motive for his disappearance.Lao authorities in Vientiane have said he might have been abducted by unknown men due to personal or business conflicts.
Sources said yesterday that his work and roles in the country might have humiliated some state agencies or particular individuals in the state agencies who stood to lose something from his activism. He was warned against doing high-profile development work, which might threaten the interests of people in power, the sources said.
Sombath is the founder and retired director of the Participatory Development Training Centre in Laos, which promotes sustainable development. He is a highly respected educator whose accomplishments were recognised by the presentation of the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership, one of Asia's top civil awards, in 2005.
Schooled in the United States, Sombath developed wide connections with international aid agencies and civic groups in the region. His Singaporean wife, Ng Shui Meng, was a former UN staffer.
Sombath was also instrumental as a co-organiser of the highly successful Asia-Europe People's Forum 9, held prior to the Ninth Asia-Europe Summit Meeting in Vientiane last October.
In the people's meeting, residents from the central province of Savannakhet brought up the running disputes they had with authorities over land in their province. Many Lao officials at the meeting felt bitter and lost face as local people raised problems of the development project on such an international stage, a source said.