Five years – five long agonizing years – have passed since your abduction in front of the police post on Thadeua Road where you were so clearly seen on CCTV footages to have been stopped by the police, made to get out of your jeep, and taken away in a white truck.
Now 5 years on – I am still no nearer to getting any answer as to what happened to you. Instead, the wall of silence sealing off the truth to your abduction just became thicker inside Laos. But despite the silence and despite the fact that many officials inside Laos do not want to hear your name mentioned anywhere, I and your friends and colleagues continue to hold you dear in our hearts and minds. “We will never forget” is our promise to you.
So on 15th of December this year, we are once more gathered on the grounds of your beloved PADETC Office to hold a blessing ceremony for you. Nine monks chanted sutras to bless you wherever you are. More than 200 of your co-workers, friends and fellow partners of the development community and diplomatic community turned up to show their support and solidarity for you, and the work you have started through PADETC.
This year, we also celebrated the 21st year of the founding of PADETC – the dream- child you started in 1996. Today, and despite your absence for 5 years, PADETC has grown and expanded and has transformed your dream and vision of local community actions led by young Lao people into a reality. These young people are committed to improving their own lives and that of their communities. Many of these young Lao were trained by you; some have continued to work in PADETC, others have branches out to work in other development organizations, or in private enterprises. Many have become leaders and now lead the second and third generation of young Lao to continue to spread your ideas of “development from within”, taking your ideas of participatory and holistic development of “head, heart, and hands” into action.
Sombath, you should take great comfort, wherever you are, that your life-long work has not been in vain. While there are still some people who are intimidated by your abduction and avoid even mentioning your name or talk about you, many more, despite all odds, have quietly continued to apply your thinking and perspectives of sustainable, people-centered development into their own work.
Sombath, I am also heartened that despite all efforts to hide your disappearance behind a wall of silence and denial, the call to the Lao government by the international media, human rights groups, and embassies in the region and across the world to come forth with answers as to what happened to you has become even more strident. It is clear that the serious crime of your enforced disappearance will not go away despite the passing of time.
So, Sombath, wherever you are, take heart that everyone continues to wish you well and will continue to seek truth and justice for you and for me.
For my part I can promise you that I will not stop my search for you however long it might take, and however difficult it would be.
My love, I am with you wherever you are. Stay well and stay strong.
Love you and miss you so much.
Shui Meng, 17 December 2017