Renewed pressure over case of missing Lao activist

Australia Network News: 28 August 2013

Photo: Lao authorities previously said that “it may be possible” that missing social activist, Sombath Somphone, has been kidnapped. (Reuters)

Laos has come under renewed pressure over the disappearance late last year of the internationally-recognised development worker and teacher, Sombath Somphone.

The Lao government is investigating the incident but has previously claimed it knows nothing about the social activists’ whereabouts.

It’s believed Mr Sombath was abducted near a police post on a busy road in Vientiane on December 15, 2012.

Human Rights Watch has previously accused the government of a “cover up”, saying authorities had failed to credibly explain his disappearance.

The delegation, led by Soren Sondergaard, a member of the European parliament, has just completed a visit to Laos to meet with senior government officials there to discuss the matter.

“Our key message was that it is impossible in a country like theirs to accept that a person can disappear a few metres in front of a police control station, taken on camera, everything is taken on camera, and despite of that, eight months have gone without any result in the investigation,” Mr Sondergaard told Asia Pacific.

He says the response he was given was that Laotian authorities need more time to investigate.

Soon after Mr Sombath’s disappearance, CCTV footage surfaced, showing him being stopped by traffic police before his car is driven away by an unidentified person.

Mr Sombath is then seen being taken away in another vehicle with up to 3 other people.

‘Accept outside assistance’

Laotian authorities have so far refused outside offers of assistance and Mr Sondergaard is appealing for them to accept offers to analyse the vision.

“They say they are not able to see the number plates on the film they have from where the things happened, but there are countries that have very sophisticated equipment for that, so it would be natural to give the tape to such countries so they can help them. But they are not willing to do that,” he said.

They have a responsibility to clear up this case and they have to use all means. It is unacceptable in every country that citizens are disappearing.”

An official EU delegation is scheduled to visit in October and Mr Sondergaard has warned that if that visit fails to provide a solution to the case of Mr Sombath, he will present a new resolution to the European parliament.