Lao social campaigner Sombath Somphone was allegedly abducted last December in Vientiane, but no one in authority wants to offer any clue to his whereabouts or fate
Since December 15 last year, when Lao social activist and Magsaysay Award winner Sombath Somphone went missing, his wife Ng Shui Meng has spent most of her time campaigning and working to ensure his safe return. It’s a daily struggle that so far has reaped no reward.
Sombath was last seen driving his jeep in Vientiane, where he was stopped at a police post and then driven away in a pickup truck by unidentified men.
Members of Sombath’s family, including his 85-year-old mother, are of course desperately concerned about his fate. His ageing and weak mother was still hoping to see her eldest son during Songkran, the traditional New Year festival also celebrated in Laos.
It is difficult for Shui Meng to explain to her mother-in-law why that Sombath appears to have been abducted, and why those in power are reluctant to help find him or offer any theory on his disappearance.
Born into a poor family in Ban Don Khio, central Khammouane province, Sombath spent most of his early life struggling with poverty, hunger and insecurity. He and his family had to seek refuge during the Indochina war in the 1960s. Like many others, Sombath was fortunate to get the opportunity to leave Laos and permanently settle in another country. However, he chose to return home and work for the better development of his country and people. Continue reading “Editorial: Missing Activist’s Family Deserves Help and Answers”
A WALL of silence has risen over the disappearance of Magsaysay Award winner Sombath Somphone in Laos four months ago.
His wife, Singaporean national Ng Shui Meng, is exhausted but still not contemplating leaving Laos, the couple’s home for more than 30 years.
“Sometimes I feel this has to be a (bad) dream, a nightmare,” she says. “I stay because there is still some hope.”
Madam Ng was on the way back to Singapore for a break and on a brief stopover in Bangkok yesterday where she had an emotional meeting with Mrs Angkhana Neelapaijit. Her husband – Thai human rights lawyer Somchai Neelapaijit – disappeared under similar circumstances in the Thai capital in 2004.
“I know what Shui Meng is going through,” Mrs Angkhana told The Straits Times. “It’s an emotional seesaw driven by rumours. One day you hear from someone that your husband is alive. The next day you hear that his body has been found.”
They were heading home for dinner in Vientiane on the evening of Dec. 15. Ng Shui-Meng, a former UNICEF staffer, was in the car ahead. Following behind was her husband, Sombath Somphone, in his battered old jeep.
But Sombath never made it home that night.
Ng’s search for her husband began soon after, with an appeal by the native Singaporean to the Laotian government to help trace the man whose fame as a civil society leader had earned him praise at home and abroad. She wrote a letter to the ministry of public security and included a copy of the CCTV footage of Sombath being checked at a police post and then being led to another vehicle on the night he vanished.
Then on Jan 4, Yong Chanthalangsy, Laos’ ambassador at the United Nations in Geneva, released a statement: “It may be possible Mr. Sombath has been kidnapped perhaps because of a personal conflict or a conflict in business or some other reason,” according to a version published in the Vientiane Times newspaper.
The Laotian government’s attempt to distance itself from an event that unfolded within a police-controlled environment and was captured on video has raised questions about its credibility. It comes at a time when the country is seeking to open up after decades of socialist control since the end of the Indo-China war.
It is an attitude that has brought little comfort to Ng, who met Sombath when the two of them were students at the University of Hawaii in the 1970s and who then followed him, after marriage, to Laos in 1985. He came home to help the country’s rural poor and she contributed in the fields of education, women and children’s issues.
The following are excerpts of an interview Ng granted to The Edge Review:
REVIEW: It is now over 100 days since your husband, Sombath Somphone, disappeared. When was the last time you heard from a Laos government official about the status of the investigation?
Ng Shui-Meng: I contacted the public security once
again a week ago asking whether the investigation was still ongoing or (whether) they considered the case closed. The response is that they are still investigating. Before that was the public security’s second official report on the results of their investigation issued on 2nd March. Continue reading “Where in the World is Sombath?”
Third Appeal to the Government of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic
Ng Shui Meng, Wife of Sombath Somphone, 30 January 2013
This is my third appeal to the Government of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic to release information or results of investigation of the disappearance of my husband, Sombath Somphone, on the evening of 15 December 2012.
Today is the 45th day since my husband’s disappearance and I have done all I can to cooperate with the police and provided information to assist the investigation and find my husband as quickly as possible. I have also met with the National Assembly Vice-President and his staff to appeal to the National Assembly, as the representatives of the people, to urge the police to expedite the investigation. But all these efforts have not yielded any concrete information related to the progress of the investigation, other than statements that “the police are still investigating”.
There are still no answers to my queries regarding:
What did the police manning the police post the evening of Sombath’s disappearance on 15 December 2012 said what happened that night, and what did they see?
Whether the motorcyclist who drove away Sombath’s jeep has been identified?
Has Sombath’s jeep (License plate No.: 2624) been found?
Whether the white truck with flashing lights that stopped at the police post and took my husband away been identified?
Has the driver of the white truck who drove away with my husband been questioned?
If the footages were too blurry, as claimed by the police, has the Ministry of Public Security sought technical assistance from any other government or international security agencies? Are they too blurry for the entire Tha Deua Road CCTV cameras?
Has the Lao police issued an Interpol Yellow Notification to inform colleagues in the region about Sombath’s disappearance and sought their assistance?
Since the disappearance of Sombath Somphone on 15 December 2012 in front of a police check-point at KM 3 Thadeua Road, many Lao people living inside and outside the country have expressed openly or in private their shock and sympathy to me and my family and have sent wishes for Sombath’s safe return. To you all, I want to say a “BIG THANK YOU”.
However, there are also some Lao groups or individuals who have used the very sad event of Sombath’s disappearance to spread harmful rumors or outright lies about Sombath for their own political or private purposes.
I would like to once and for all put to rest many of these lies and harmful rumors:
Sombath is not affiliated with any political groups in-country or outside the country as implied by some comments or assertions on some websites. Sombath loves Laos and the Lao people, and he fully supports the development vision of the Lao Government as expressed in the Lao National Economic and Social Development Plan. As a private Lao citizen, he sees his role as supporting the Lao Government to implement its development plan, especially at the community level. He has done so for the past 30 years, and he has worked tirelessly to try to improve the lives of Lao people, especially those living in rural areas, by contributing his knowledge and skills, and always working in consultation and in collaboration with the people and the government.
Sombath is a Lao citizen and has no dual nationality. He only holds a Lao passport.
Sombath has not misused any funds in connection with any project or program. He has not absconded any money from any project or program as has been rumored as the reason for his disappearance.
Dear Fellow Lao, please remember
SOMBATH IS NOT A CAUSE, HE IS A HUMAN BEING WHOSE LIFE AND WELL- BEING CAN BE HARMED BY YOUR ACTIONS INTENDED OR OTHERWISE.
Since Sombath disappearance on the evening of 15 December 2012, my family and I have been touched by the great love, concern and support shown by friends, colleagues, international and regional agencies, civil society groups, government spokespersons, and the media who have joined hands to urge the Government of the Lao PDR to invest all their resources and capacities in their ongoing investigation of Sombath’s whereabouts, and to return him safely to me and to my family. We are most grateful and deeply touched by such show of solidarity for Sombath’s well-‐ being.
While many articles and statements written about Sombath’s disappearance and urging his safe return have been helpful, some of the reports and comments also contain some factual errors or speculations. My greatest wish is the personal safety and well-‐being of my husband, Sombath, wherever he is. For this reason, I urge all well-‐wishers not to stray away from the facts or to misrepresent Sombath or the nature of his work.
The facts as I know them
Sombath was last seen on 15 December 2012 driving in his jeep behind my vehicle. We were both going home to dinner. The last time I saw him from my rear view mirror was around 6:00 p.m. near the police post on KM 3 on Thadeua Road.
When he did not return home that night, we searched for Sombath’s whereabouts around the area where he was last seen and also searched the city’s hospital in the hope of finding Sombath, but to no avail.
On 16 December, we reported Sombath missing to the village, district and police authorities. Family searches were once more carried out in all the city’s hospitals, but there was no sign of Sombath.
On 17 December 2012, a request was made to the Vientiane Municipality Police Station to view the close circuit TV footages recorded by CCTV cameras near the police post where Sombath was last seen. The police officers on duty were very cooperative and allowed us to view the CCTV footages. From the TV footages, we saw Sombath stopped by the police at the police post. We saw Sombath get out of his jeep and enter into the police post.
Later a motorcyclist came by, parked the motorcycle near the jeep, running into the police post and later emerged and drove Sombath’s jeep away.
The wife of Sombath Somphone was interviewed on Australian radio today, emphasizing that her husband is a development worker who is interested in helping his country, and that he has always worked closely with the government.
Prominent Lao activist still missing
ABC Radio, 04 January 2013
This weekend marks three weeks since the disappearance of the respected Lao community leader, teacher and social activist Sombath Somphone.Well known in the region, he received the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award for his work.
Sombath Somphone has not been heard of since being taken away from a police checkpoint in the capital, Vientiane.
The government has denied any involvement, hinting at a possible business or personal conflict as the reason for his disappearance.
Presenter: Tom Fayle
Speaker: Ng Shui Meng, who’s high-profile activist husband Sombath Somphone has been missing in Laos for almost three weeks
NG: I have not heard any news apart from the government statement which was issued on the 19th and a visit to the police station I have not heard anything since.
FAYLE: Now have the authorities been maintaining contact with you?
NG: The police department has called me for a short interview on the 26th of December and since then they have not been in contact with me.
FAYLE: Now would you describe your husband as a dissident in any form?
NG: No my husband is not a dissident, he is a very low-profile social development worker interested in helping the country, teaching young people in community service, empowering them, teaching them leadership skills, working with the monks and working with students. He is not at all an activist or a dissident in any way. He has worked closely with the government and with approval of government for every project he has done. So he’s not at all an activist, he always believes that as a Lao citizen he wants to support the government to help develop the country. Continue reading “"My husband is not a dissident"”
My uncle, Mr. Sombath Somphone, has been missing since December 15th 2012 in Vientiane, Laos. Till now, our family still haven’t got any news about where he is, who has him, why he was taken (kidnapped?), how can we get him back. So depressed and so stressful for our family and all the people who know my uncle so well. We don’t know what to do.
There’s rumor that many people have been told not to talk about him. Many people are even scared to contact with our family. Many people have told that this is very dangerous case. If you don’t know my uncle well, you will believe in that. Repectfully, to those who believe in that, for the entire life of me and my family and friends, we don’t see any thing that he has done wrong to any body. He’s just a normal person who cares so much about the future of his own country and the lives of the next generation. He have been working so hard in his entire life not to gain fame, but with a truly caring heart to help our country as much as he can do. What other people around the world said about him recently is the evident. We cannot control or force anyone to say that’s he’s good or bad. All his works since the past and the respect from people around the world have already shown us all.
If anyone know what he has done wrong. Please, please let us know. Continue reading “An appeal from Sombath’s niece”