Lao Gov't Issues Report on Activist's Disappearance

VIENTIANE, March 4 (Xinhua) — The Lao Ministry of Public Security held a press conference last Friday to provide information on the disappearance and suspected abduction of Lao activist Sombath Somphone in Laos’ capital of Vientiane on December 15, 2012.

At the conference, the Deputy Director-General of the Lao Police Department Phengsavanh Thiphavongxay provided a lengthy briefing on the findings of the committee investigating the case so far.

Broadly speaking, the briefing confirmed that the police had made no further progress in identifying the whereabouts of the missing activist. “Up to this point in time, no individuals or organisations have provided any information about Sombath Somphone and the Jeep.” Thiphavongxay confirmed.

Sombath Somphone was the head of the Participatory Development Training Center (PADETC) who provide training in community-based development. After he failed to return to his home in Vientiane on the night of December 15, 2012, his family contacted the local authorities. Since then, many international groups and governments have expressed concern about the case and the potential for some police or government complicity in his disappearance.

CCTV footage released to Somphone’s family show Somphone exiting from his Jeep, talking to a group of men, his jeep being driven away by another unknown motorcyclist who arrived moments later, then Somphone getting into a pickup truck with the first men. This incident occurred within meters of a police checkpoint. It is unclear in the footage to what extent the individual is being coerced or acting of his own volition.

According to Thiphavongxay, none of the men, nor the motorcycle or pickup truck have as yet been identified. “It was not clear to identify who was the motorcyclist and what the license plate number of the motorcycle was. In viewing the CCTV footage many times we can see the pickup truck. However, its license plate number is not clearly visible and it is not possible to identify the persons who entered the truck and its driver.”

Police at the nearby checkpoint also had not noticed anything suspicious on that night. The police manning the station reported that, “In the area under their responsibility during the time of reported incident, the situation was normal and there was no any incident of fight or violence occurred and no car or individual was detained.”

Thiphavongxay noted the interest expressed by some foreign nations and groups regarding the case, and attempted to address some specific questions raised by these groups.

The CCTV footage shown to the family shortly after his disappearance was recorded on a family member’s mobile phone, and this footage has been released widely on the internet. Thiphavongxay said, in response to the question of whether better quality footage could be released by the government, that the quality of footage on the government CCTV system was the same as that recorded on the phone. “It is the only CCTV footage related to the incident which was recorded with such level of visibility that we all see.”

He denied that the footage could be further enhanced, explaining, “This visibility of the CCTV footage technically will stay the same blurry when to be seen by any other persons because this is a technical matter of CCTV footage recording and the recorded footage cannot be zoomed in or zoomed out for clear viewing, which is different from a live video picture.”

The police authorities of the Lao PDR have notified ASEANPOL and INTERPOL asking them to help watch for information that might be related to Sombath and the car.

Thiphavongxay explained that police had made contact with and interviewed both the immediate and extended family of Somphone and asked all police authorities nationwide to coordinate their efforts on this case.

Thiphavongxay complained that, “some individuals, some non- governmental organisations, some foreign media groups” had made ” unconstructive and socially disturbing comments, accusing the police authorities of detaining Sombath Somphone which is absolutely not true.”

He noted that only four missing persons cases had occurred in Laos in the last 24 years, one of which was solved.