Wife of Missing Lao Civil Society Leader Vows to Keep Pushing For Answers

Radio Free Asia: 12 December 2014

Ng Shui-Meng, wife of Sombath Somphone, talks about her husband’s disappearance at a press conference in Bangkok, Dec. 11, 2014.

The wife of a missing prominent civil society leader in Laos vowed to continue pushing the authorities for answers over the disappearance of her husband, who vanished under mysterious circumstances in the capital Vientiane two years ago. Ng Shui-Meng, the wife of Sombath Somphone, said she would continue to highlight her husband’s case “until the end of my life.” “I will not give up asking, looking for and requesting the Lao government, officials and police to please give our family sympathy and give us answers soon, because after Sombath’s disappearance, we felt pain and our lives became difficult,” she said at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand in Bangkok on Thursday. “However, I am committed to looking for Sombath until the end of my life if I don’t get the answers.” At the Bangkok event, several nongovernmental organizations joined her in establishing the Sombath Initiative to pressure the Lao government to continue to investigate and resolve the case as well as push ahead with Sombath’s ideas and ideals. Ng told RFA’s Lao Service that she wanted her husband’s suspected abductors to sympathize with her family and release him safely. Missing Sombath went missing on Dec. 15, 2012, when police stopped him in his vehicle at a checkpoint in Vientiane. He was then transferred to another vehicle, according to police surveillance video, and has not been heard from since. Rights groups suspect that government-linked organizations or criminal elements may have abducted Sombath, who received the 2005 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership—Asia’s equivalent of the Nobel Prize—for his work in the fields of education and development. Lao officials have yet to state a reason for his disappearance or made any progress in the case. Kesana Phichith, deputy head of the investigation unit at Vientiane police headquarters declined to discuss the matter with RFA. Besides Ng, the Sombath Initiative comprises Philippine lawmaker Walden Bello, European parliament advisor Paul-Emile Dupret, Deputy Director of Southeast Asia Studies at the U.S.-based Center for Strategic and International Studies Murray Hiebert, Malaysian lawmaker Charles Santiago, Australian senator Lee Rhiannon, and Angkhana Neelapaijit of the Justice for Peace Foundation. Outside pressure Last month, donor countries to Laos pressed the government of Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong on Sombath’s whereabouts at a roundtable meeting with the authorities in Vientiane, during which they discussed the country’s progress and challenges in implementing various development goals. A high-ranking official at the Lao Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the government had not been complacent on the issue and was putting efforts and resources into the investigation, source said. European Union development partners noted the government’s lack of progress with the case, despite a reassurance at last year’s roundtable meeting that it was continuing the investigation and would bring the perpetrators to justice. “Continued uncertainty around this case will not reflect well on the Lao PDR [People’s Democratic Republic] in the upcoming Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process,” a statement issued by the EU development partners said, referring to a human rights review each U.N. member country undergoes every four years. Laos is scheduled to be reviewed in January. Laos previously rejected any international assistance with the investigation into Sombath’s disappearance, including a U.S. offer to provide technical help to enhance the quality of some blurry images of the surveillance video footage. Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Ounkeo Souksavanh. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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