Dear Sombath…from Shui Meng (11)

My dearest Sombath,

Today is the last day of 2017.  For four years now I have been waiting desperately for news of your whereabouts and your safe return.  This time of the year should be a time for family gatherings to send off the old year and welcome the new.  But for you and I, there is only longing and waiting.

For you, wherever you are, I hope and pray that you are well and in good health physically, emotionally and spiritually.  I can only hope that your innate kindness, sincerity, and good humour can win you friends wherever you are and whoever you are with.  I hope they will treat you well and will be won over by your humility, your wisdom, and your deep spirituality.  I hope they will find your wide-ranging knowledge and skills useful to them and that they can benefit from your advice and service.  I hope and hope that they will somehow find it in their hearts to see the kind of person you are, and they will one day set you free to come back to us.

Sombath dearest, it has already been four years since that fateful night that you were forcedly abducted on Thadeua Road.  You can be reassured that it is not only I and our family who continue to long for your return, many of your friends and fellow Laotians also still remember you.  They have told me repeatedly that you are still very much in their hearts and minds, even though some of them are still afraid to talk about you in public.

Sombath, PADETC staff and your family and friends once more held the PADETC Fair on 15 December to commemorate your disappearance. As with last year, the commemoration event was opened by prayers and blessing for your safety, good health and wellbeing by Phra Arjan Sithone and monks from Wat Na Khoun Noi.  The participants to the PADETC Fair included Ambassadors, Diplomats and representatives and staff of international and Laos CSOs, and many friends and many of your former volunteers.  In addition, members of the Mekong Youth, and the Asian Federation Against Enforced Disappearance (AFAD) attended the Fair to show their solidarity.

At the PADETC Fair, participants were reminded by the panel of speakers of your vision and work on sustainable development and education, your respect for local culture and wisdom, and your influence on so many young people in and outside Laos.  At the PADETC Fair, the participants also saw for themselves photo displays of your life and work, and exhibitions of how your ideas are continued through the work of the PADETC networks and youth groups.

What comforted me most was that many participants at the Fair told me that you and your contribution to the development community will always be remembered, and that they hope you will return soon to continue with your work.  Many from the Diplomatic Corp in Vientiane also reassured me that they will continue to urge the Lao Government for the quick resolution of your disappearance.

Sombath, apart from the PADETC Fair on 15 December, the Sombath Initiative and your friends also held a Press Conference and Interactive Dialogue at the FCCT in Bangkok on 19 December titled “Sombath Somphone and the Tragedy of Enforced Disappearances”. At the press conference, Angkhana Neelapaijit (wife of Human Rights Lawyer, Somchai Neelapaijit), Pinnipa Preuksapan (wife of Pholachi “Billy” Rakchongcharoen, an ethnic Karen land and rights activist), and I spoke about our personal pain and struggles against the injustice and impunity of Enforced Disappearances.

What was clear from both the PADETC Fair and the FCCT Event is that even with the passing of time your disappearance and that of Somchai Neelapaijit and “Billy” Rakchongchareon are still in the forefront of the minds of the public, the media, and the Human Rights Organizations.  Hopefully, with such support, Angkhana, Pinnapha, and I will eventually get to know the truth of what happened and those responsible be brought to justice.

Dearest Sombath, I do not know how much longer I will still have to wait for your return, but I can promise you that I will never give up until I find you.  I hope you will never give up too.

Stay safe, my love, and keep well and may the New Year reunite us.

Love you, Shui Meng

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