European parliamentarians pressure Laos on missing activist

Europe Online: 28 October 2013

Bangkok (dpa) – European parliamentarians on a visit to Vientiane Monday vowed to keep diplomatic pressure on Laos to solve the case of missing activist Sombath Somphone.

“We did not get convincing answers to any of our questions,” said Werner Langen, chairman of the European Parliament‘s delegation for South-East Asia. “We will keep the pressure on.”

Langen and three other European parliamentarians met Lao legislators and ministers including Phongsavath Boupha, head of Laos‘ national steering committee on human rights, to discuss the case of Sombath who went missing in a Vientiane suburb on December 15 after being stopped at a police checkpoint.

CCTV footage showed Sombath being pushed into a pickup truck that was driven off. He has not been seen since.

The Communist regime has denied knowledge of the incident or Sombath‘s whereabouts.

“We made it clear that if the case is not solved they will lose credibility in the EU,” Langen said.

While stopping short of threatening to penalize Laos over the case, Langen said the EU had shortlisted Sombath for its prestigious Sakharov Prize for freedom of thought.

Myanmar democracy champion Aung San Suu Kyi picked up the prize last week, 23 years after winning it while under house arrest in Yangon.

The EU is one of the leading donors to Laos, which still ranks among the world‘s least developed countries.

“The EU should use all its leverage to ensure Sombath‘s safe return,” said a joint letter from Amnesty International, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, and Federation Internationale des Ligues de Droits.

In August, Danish member of the European Parliament Soren Bo Sondergaard led a delegation to Vientiane to pursue the case.

Sondergaard concluded that the government was “still in a state of denial” over Sombath‘s disappearance.

He called on the EU to put more pressure on Laos, such as threatening to block its bid to sit on the UN Human Rights Council or to graduate from its current status as a least-developed country.