Laos under international spotlight in search for land rights activist
The Guardian: 24 January 2013
Sombath Somphone disappeared a month ago after stopping at a police checkpoint, yet officials deny knowing his whereabouts.
Though it rarely makes international headlines, Laos has been in the spotlight for the past month. One of its most well-respected activists has gone missing after stopping at a police checkpoint. His disappearance has prompted the Laos government to suggest he was “kidnapped”, but rights groups suspect he may have been abducted after campaigning against land grabs.
Sombath Somphone, 60, disappeared on the night of 15 December in the capital, Vientiane, and was last seen by his wife, Ng Shui Meng, who was driving ahead of him as the couple returned home in separate cars. CCTV footage shows the activist stopping at a police post, leaving his vehicle, and his Jeep being driven away by someone else. Later, a pickup truck with its lights flashing arrives, Sombath gets in, and he and two other men drive off.
Although Sombath has not been seen or heard from since the checkpoint stop, the government insists it has nothing to do with his disappearance.
In an official statement carried by the state news agency KPL soon after Sombath went missing, a government spokesman said he may have been “kidnapped perhaps because of a personal conflict or a conflict in business”, and that the pickup truck in question was driven by two men “not possible to identify”. Their vehicle, the statement added, “went away to an unknown destination”.
Sombath’s family and friends say he had no such conflicts and that no ransom has been demanded. Continue reading “Laos under spotlight”