Archive for November, 2013

November 29, 2013

Ho Chi Minh City Has Early Celebration Of Laos National Day (December 2nd)

Ho Chi Minh City Has Early Celebration Of Laos National Day

Click on the link to get more news and video from original source:  http://www.bernama.com.my/bernama/v7/wn/newsworld.php?id=997200
December 29, 2013
HCM CITY, Nov 29 (Bernama) – A ceremony commemorating the 38th anniversary of Laos’ National Day was held in Ho Chi Minh City on Friday, Vietnam News Agency (VNA) reported.Laos’ National Day is traditionally celebrated on Dec 2 every year to mark the establishment of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic in 1975.

Southideth Phommalat, Laos consul-general in HCM City, said at the event the support provided by the Vietnamese government and people has played a vital role in Laos’ achievements in national construction and defence.

Vietnam-Laos Friendship Association chairman Phan Xuan Bien speaking at the same occasion said close ties and cooperation between both countries have contributed to the development of sectors such as agriculture, healthcare, education and human resources.

Two-way trade between Vietnam and Laos reached US$733.5 million in the first nine months of the year, up 11.6 percent year on year.

Vietnam is Laos’ leading foreign investor with US$5.2 billion in investments.

– BERNAMA

November 22, 2013

Thailand’s War of Attrition

 

Thailand’s War of Attrition

As the government and opposition forces take to the streets, an exiled billionaire waits in the wings, and battle lines are drawn.

Click on the link to get more news and video from original source: http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2013/11/21/thailand_s_war_of_attrition?page=full

BY STEVE FINCH | NOVEMBER 21, 2013

BANGKOK — With his sister in office, a majority in the lower house, and billions in the bank, Thailand’s self-exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra had every reason to feel confident he might soon return home. But an attempt by the ruling Pheu Thai party to ram a sweeping political amnesty through parliament has backfired. As the government he influences from overseas fights for survival, Thailand’s latest political crisis threatens longer-term damage to Thaksin’s support base. And it leaves him a long way from home.

Portrayed by the Shinawatras as an attempt to draw a line under nearly a decade of bruising political encounters, the amnesty bill would have cleared Thaksin of a two-year prison term for graft in absentia after his ouster by coup in 2006. Murder charges against Abhisit Vejjajiva, leader of the opposition Democrat Party, over his role in crushing Bangkok street protests by Thaksin supporters, known as “Red Shirts,” when he was prime minister in 2010 would also have been quashed.

“Should we reset and move on or should we continue to fight?” Thaksin said in a last-ditch attempt at convincing his opponents that the bill could lead to political reconciliation during an interview published in Thai and English on Oct. 24.

Eight days later, the Pheu Thai-dominated lower house unanimously passed the bill amid an opposition walkout. By the time it reached the upper house on Nov. 12, however, the bill had become so toxic that senators had little choice but to reject it 141-0.

As it reached the Senate, almost every corner of Thai society was livid. Office workers in the central Silom district of Bangkok left their desks and poured into the street blowing whistles; university staff and students marched together on campuses, and opposition supporters set up tents around the capital’s Democracy Monument near the seat of government.

A bill that was designed to “reset” the country’s long-running political feud by clearing everyone’s name thereby — in theory, keeping everyone happy — had achieved the opposite. For Thaksin supporters, many of whom were killed and injured at the hands of the military in 2010, the amnesty would clear main opposition Democrat Party leader Abhisit, a man they commonly refer to as “the murderer.” For his opponents, the bill is seen as a cynical attempt by the government to sweep graft under the carpet and smooth the return of a hated and divisive figure. There are also fears that Thaksin’s assets worth $1.47 billion could be unfrozen.

Following a coup in September 2006, Thailand’s political divide has widened in a cyclical series of political crises typified by protests and clashes involving the “Yellow Shirts,” self-proclaimed defenders of the monarchy, and the Red Shirts, opponents of the coup. As a result, chaos has become a regular feature of life in the Thai capital: In November 2008, Yellow Shirts seized both Bangkok airports to protest a new government deemed a proxy of Thaksin; less than two years later, parts of Bangkok were turned into free-fire zones as the army clashed with encamped Red Shirts. Amid the battles, the Reds have aimed to overturn the constitutional legacy of the coup in the name of greater democratic reform. For the Yellows, the goal remains the end of Thaksin’s influence, a man deemed a threat to the monarchy, an enduring symbol of graft and greed.

“Corruption is the No. 1 problem with the government,” says Chao Chaonarich, a real-estate agent from Bangkok. One of the thousands of Yellow Shirt protesters who continue to rally in Bangkok as the opposition aims to topple Yingluck, Chao complained the government’s record was far from stellar even before the amnesty bill.

Government critics argue that a populist rice-pledging scheme which guarantees farmers a fixed price per kilo is costing the country dear, guaranteeing prices above market rates while sapping overseas demand. The Shinawatras have pursued an election-winning strategy of “Thaksinomics,” playing to the rural poor — the majority — by providing subsidies on everything from health insurance to energy in recent years, with mixed results. The rice-pledging scheme left taxpayers with a bill for 136 billion baht ($4.3 billion) during Yingluck’s first year in office and an estimated $9.6 billion in the 18 months since. The government has refused to disclose recent losses but the state budget is hemorrhaging funds by most accounts: In recent weeks, some farmers have been told they must wait months before they will receive payment with debt as percentage of GDP climbing to 44.3 percent.

To add further damage to the Pheu Thai government, the International Monetary Fund called for the rice policy to be scrapped on Nov. 11. That was the same day the Senate shot down the amnesty bill and the International Court of Justice in The Hague mostly sided with Cambodia in a ruling on a territorial dispute over land around Preah Vihear, a 1,000-year-old Hindu temple.

If policies like the rice scheme were supposed to lock-in voters for Yingluck and Thaksin in Thailand’s agricultural heartland in the north, the amnesty debacle has mobilized opponents, particularly in Bangkok, while turning off rural supporters.

A Bangkok University poll conducted a few days before the Senate killed the bill put opposition leader Abhisit ahead of Yingluck for the first time since she easily defeated him in June 2011 elections. Her approval rating has slumped to 26.7 percent against 37.2 percent for Abhisit — in June of this year, Yingluck was nearly nine percentage points clear according to the same pollsters.

Her policies have remained strictly Thaksin-centric: Economically with the rice policy and a first-time car-buyers financing scheme, and politically in attempting to nullify constitutional changes made following the coup against her exiled brother.

Thida Thavornseth, chairman of the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD), a core Red Shirt group, estimated the government had lost “at least 10 percent” of its support in the past few weeks. Key supporters who want to see rule of law, democratic reform, and Abhisit on trial for murder are “angry” she says.

Thida was among four key Red Shirt leaders were removed from a scheduled appearance on Asia Update, a television channel financially backed by Thaksin’s son Panthongtae, a week before the crucial Senate vote. Their message wasn’t what Thaksin wanted people to hear, she said: All were against the bill. In response, the UDD is set to launch its own TV channel next month.

Other former Thaksin supporters have spoken of more drastic moves away from him, and his sister. Among the Red Shirt protests against the amnesty bill, some leaders of the movement spoke of setting up a political party to rival the Shinawatras.

“Many people don’t feel the same about Yingluck and Thaksin anymore,” says Thida.

An increasingly fractured group, the Red Shirts represent a number of factions who all share one thing in common: Since his first election victory in 2001, most have jumped on the Thaksin bandwagon. In a country where King Bhumibol Adulyadej has reigned from behind closely guarded palace gates since 1946 (the longest-serving monarch in the world), the Red Shirts have considered Thaksin a breath of fresh, democratic air to mix up the old elite. To his detractors, the telecoms billionaire-cum-politician has instead been viewed as nouveau-riche, a young upstart prepared to upset the regal status quo to his own end.

He hinted at reforming what is known as Article 112, Thailand’s draconian lese majeste law; so too did his sister when she took office. But with an escalating number of Red Shirts behind bars in recent years, “Pheu Thai has been singularly unresponsive in the effort to bring up this issue,” says David Streckfuss, a leading academic on lese majeste. The controversial amnesty bill was described as a “blanket amnesty” by most news media for everyone from Thaksin down to the lowest-ranking Red Shirt behind bars. But the only Thais who wouldn’t get a clean slate under the proposed law were those behind bars on lese majeste convictions, says Streckfuss.

With antagonism running high and the number of cases rising to about 150 every year, Article 112 is for the time being too politically explosive for the government to handle in the current political climate, adds Streckfuss.

In a country where this draconian law makes free political discussion impossible, Thailand’s latest political quagmire has raised even more questions than usual as the impasse rumbles on. Why did Thaksin risk such a disastrous political move? And where does it leave supporters who have for the first time openly protested in the streets against him?

Mutterings of a back-room deal between Thaksin, the military, and even the “network monarchy” (the royals and their associated offices including the Privy Council) provide a plausible explanation as to why Thaksin felt confident enough to push the amnesty bill so hard from exile through his supporters. But we don’t know what’s happening behind the scenes, says Duncan McCargo, author of The Thaksinization of Thailand.

“The amnesty issue relates to what the state of play is over a deal between the two sides,” he says. “It’s not simply about what Thaksin is doing.”

Audio tapes of a supposed conversation appeared on YouTube in which Thaksin discussed a military reshuffle and his possible return to Thailand with Deputy Defense Minister Yuthasak Sasiprapha emerged in July fueling conspiracy theories over a backroom deal. Yuthasak’s roles in previous Thaksin administrations added an appearance of authenticity.

But those close to the billionaire tycoon in recent years — including exiled UDD founding member Jakrapob Penkair — remain adamant that he was not party to any discussions with the military, opposition or any other senior establishment figure in the lead up to the amnesty bill.

“There’s no such deal. But I admit that there might be some deal among those in high places in Thailand that our side is not involved in,” says Jarapob, alluding to a deal among other power factions.

As leaders of the opposition Democrat party appeared on stage in front of thousands of supporters in Bangkok during a final push to topple the government this week, Yingluck has called for talks with the opposition. It’s the first public mention of dialogue since Thailand’s latest political battle began.

The “unpalatable” opposition is resurgent but cannot expect to win an election anytime soon, says McCargo. With Thaksin recoiled and no closer to a return, his position has weakened. And although Yingluck remains vulnerable in the short term and far from in full control, she is likely to emerge further distanced from her divisive older brother and therefore stronger, adds McCargo.

Thailand, though, remains no closer to a settlement, much less in possession of a leader to help end the cycle of mutually assured political destruction.

“For Thai people, you don’t have any other choice,” says Thida of the UDD. “If you don’t choose Pheu Thai, but you support democracy, who do you choose now?”

—-

สื่ออินโดฯถาม’ทักษิณ’ไม่ผิดแล้วหนีทำไม

Click on the link to get more news and video from original source: http://news.th.msn.com/inter/%E0%B8%AA%E0%B8%B7%E0%B9%88%E0%B8%AD%E0%B8%AD%E0%B8%B4%E0%B8%99%E0%B9%82%E0%B8%94%E0%B8%AF%E0%B8%96%E0%B8%B2%E0%B8%A1%E0%B8%97%E0%B8%B1%E0%B8%81%E0%B8%A9%E0%B8%B4%E0%B8%93%E0%B9%84%E0%B8%A1%E0%B9%88%E0%B8%9C%E0%B8%B4%E0%B8%94%E0%B9%81%E0%B8%A5%E0%B9%89%E0%B8%A7%E0%B8%AB%E0%B8%99%E0%B8%B5%E0%B8%97%E0%B8%B3%E0%B9%84%E0%B8%A1?fb_action_ids=754653134549085&fb_action_types=og.likes&fb_ref=scpshrjwfb&fb_source=other_multiline&action_object_map=[248163105333998]&action_type_map=[%22og.likes%22]&action_ref_map=[%22scpshrjwfb%22]

บทความสื่ออินโดฯ ถาม

“ทักษิณ” มั่นใจว่าไม่ผิด ทำไมไม่สู้คดี เหน็บ “ยิ่งลักษณ์” เดินเกมผิด หรือไร้เดียงสา เร่งช่วยพี่ชายจนถูกต้านเกือบล้มทั้งกระดาน

จาการ์ตา โพสต์ สื่อดังของอินโดนีเซีย เล่นแรง เขียนบทบรรณาธิการชื่อ “A dangerous sister’s love”
โดยระบุว่า น.ส.ยิ่งลักษณ์ ชินวัตร นายกรัฐมนตรีของไทย เดินเกมผิดพลาด หรือ ไร้เดียงสา จากการพยายาม
หาทางช่วยพี่ชาย (พ.ต.ท.ทักษิณ ชินวัตร) กลับประเทศ ในเวลานี้ ด้วยการออกกฎหมายนิรโทษกรรม จนนำมา
ซึ่งการประท้วงต่อต้านครั้งรุนแรงตามท้องถนน

บทบรรณาธิการของจาการ์ตา โพสต์ ระบุด้วยว่า “ยิ่งลักษณ์” อาจจะต้องจ่ายค่าตอบแทนของบทเรียนราคา
ที่สูงลิ่ว จากความผิดพลาดในครั้งนี้ แม้ว่ากองทัพ ซึ่งมีประวัติศาสตร์อันยาวนานในการขับไล่รัฐบาลที่มาจาก
การเลือกตั้งยังคงนิ่งเฉยในเรื่องดังกล่าว แต่ก็จะประมาทไม่ได้ เพราะครั้งก่อน กองทัพ เคยใช้ข้ออ้างเรื่อง
ความมั่นคงในการปฏิวัติ “ทักษิณ” มาแล้ว และซ้ำร้าย จะยิ่งไปกันใหญ่ หากทหารได้รับอนุญาต อีกครั้ง เพื่อ
ฆ่าประชาธิปไตย ในนามของการรักษาความปลอดภัย และความมั่นคง เหมือนปี 2010 ที่ทหาร ปราบปรามผู้
สนับสนุนของ “ทักษิณ” จนมีผู้เสีนชีวิตกว่า 90 ราย

จาการ์ตาร์โพส ยังระบุอีกด้วยว่า “ทักษิณ” คือต้นเหตุความแตกแยกในประเทศไทย ได้รับความนิยมสูงจาก
เกษตรกร และประชาชนในชนบท แต่เป็นศัตรูหมายเลข 1 ของชนชั้นกลาง ในเขตเมือง ชนชั้นสูง ทางการ
เมือง ทหาร และที่สำคัญที่สุดคือ พระราชวงศ์ ถูกตัดสินว่ามีความผิดข้อหาคอร์รัปชั่น ต้องติดคุก 2 ปี และ
ยึดทรัพย์จำนวนมาก ซึ่งจากความผิดดังกล่าว ทำให้น้องสาวต้องออกกฎหมายนิรโทษกรรม จนนำมาซึ่งความ
วุ่นวายจนต้องยอมถอย และถอนกฎหมายออกจากสภา แต่ผู้ประท้วงยังไม่ยอมหยุด แม้ว่า “ยิ่งลักษณ์” จะ
ร้องขอให้ยุติการชุมนุมก็ตาม

ทั้งนี้ บทบรรณาธิการของจาการ์ตา โพสต์ ทิ้งท้ายว่า ทักษิณ อาจจะไม่สามารถกลับมาเหยียบประเทศไทยได้
อีกครั้ง แม้ว่าขณะนี้จะเป็นนายกรัฐมนตรีโดยพฤตินัยก็ตาม จึงตั้งคำถามกลับไปว่าหาก “ทักษิณ” มีความมั่นใจ
ในความบริสุทธิ์ของตน ทำไมไม่เผชิญหน้ากับความยุติธรรมโดยตรง และคำถามนี้ “ทักษิณ” เพียงคนเดียวที่
สามารถตอบได้

THE JAKARTA POST
Editorial: A Dangerous Sister’s Love

The Jakarta Post

Click on the link to get more news and video from original source: http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2013/11/14/editorial-a-dangerous-sister-s-love.html

Read the Jakarta Post’s Editorial of November 14 inside

JAKARTA: — Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, wrongly or naively, assumed that time has come for her government to welcome back elder brother Thaksin Shinawatra. Her intention to grant amnesty to Thaksin backfired, as evident from the massive protests waged by anti-Thaksin groups and even by many of the former prime minister’s supporters.

Yingluck and the country may have to pay dearly for her wrong calculation and over-confidence.

So far the military, which has a long history of ousting democraticaly elected governments, has remained quiet about the political uproar. But knowing their resentment with Thaksin, it is just a matter of time before the army generals use this “national security threat” as a pretext to stage a coup.

It would be a nightmare for the whole nation if the military was allowed, again, to kill democracy in the name of security and stability. In 2010, a military crackdown on Thaksin’s supporters resulted in 90 protesters being killed.

Thaksin is a divisive figure in Thailand. He is highly popular among farmers and people in the countryside, but he is the public enemy No. 1 for middle class in urban areas, political elites, the military and most importantly, the royal family. He was sentenced to two years in prison for corruption in 2006 and many of the multi-billionaire’s assets were seized.

Yingluck’s Puea Thai Party backed off from the amnesty bill on Monday, but the main opposition Democrat Party seized the opportunity and gained the momentum to organize a three-day nationwide strike starting Wednesday. The prime minister realized her mistake and called on protesters to back down too.

“I would like to ask the people to call off the protests,” Yingluck appealed to the nation on Tuesday. “I am pleading for [protesters] to have patience. We don’t want to see any violence.”

According to the Associated Press, the original draft of the bill did not extend amnesty to the leaders of either the pro or anti-Thaksin groups, but a House committee in mid-October suddenly changed the bill to include both. The last-minute change led to criticism that it was planned all along to include Thaksin.

Thaksin probably will never be able to return to Thailand again, although he is now a de facto prime minister of Thailand.


— The Nation 2013-11-15

November 20, 2013

Vietnam Doubts Sustainability of Second Lao Dam Project on Mekong

Vietnam Doubts Sustainability of Second Lao Dam Project on Mekong

LAOS: 2013-11-16

Click on the link to get more news and video from original source:  http://www.rfa.org/english/news/laos/dam-11152013181814.html

Le Duc Trung (C) speaks at a briefing on the Don Sahong dam in Laos’ Champasak province, Nov. 12, 2013.

Vietnam has joined Cambodia in questioning the sustainability of the planned Don Sahong dam project on the Mekong River in southern Laos, saying more environmental impact studies are needed before the scheme moves forward.

Le Duc Trung, director general of the Vietnam National Mekong Committee under the Ministry of Natural Resources, and who recently visited the site where the dam will be built some two kilometers (1.6 miles) upstream from the Cambodian border, said Tuesday that his government “still has a lot of questions” about the project.

The official said Vietnam, which lies downstream from the proposed dam site, remains unclear about how the project will affect the river’s fish stocks and other important ecosystems, and how that could in turn impinge upon the food security of riparian communities.

“The questions involve the [needs of the] specific habitat,” the official said, speaking at a press conference in Pakse district, Champasak province after touring the site in the Siphandone area of Laos, where the Mekong splits into multiple channels, one of which will be bridged by the dam.

“[What] physical characteristics [of the area] will be altered in order to maintain fish migration when the Hou Sahong [channel] is completely dammed?” he asked.

The official said that “more studies should be carried out” before Laos can build the 260-megawatt hydropower project.

Ready to proceed

Landlocked Laos, which hopes to become the battery of Southeast Asia by selling electricity to its neighbors, has indicated that it is ready to proceed with the project, regardless of mounting criticism from environmental watchdogs, nongovernmental organizations, and local communities.

In September, Laos told a regional body overseeing development of the Mekong River that dam construction is expected to begin in November, although preliminary groundwork around the dam site has gone on for months.

Earlier this week, Deputy Minister of Energy and Mines Viraponh Viravong told reporters who were taken on a tour of the dam site that local villagers are not allowed to fish in the area, saying the volume of fish there has decreased.

The ban eliminates a major source of income and food security for local residents, who have been assured that those who can no longer fish for a living because of the dam will be provided with alternative jobs.

Environmental groups, including U.S.-based International Rivers, have warned that the project “spells disaster” for fish migration on the Mekong and threatens regional food security.

They said the dam will block the only section of the Mekong River where fish can pass in large numbers during the dry season.

Officials and experts working on the dam have claimed that much of the criticism of the project stems from misinformation and outdated reports.

Dams scrapped

Vietnam recently cancelled its own plans to build two dams on the Dong Nai River, which International Rivers said would have threatened a United Nations-recognized “Biosphere Reserve Zone.”

Hanoi shelved the plans in response to pressure from local environmental groups.

A study by Vietnam’s Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment had reported that the Dong Nai 6 and Dong Nai 6A dams would destroy more than 327 hectares (808 acres) of forests, 128 of which are located in Cat Tien National Park.

In May, UNESCO refused to recognize Cat Tien National Park as a Natural World Heritage site due to threats from hydropower plants and the animal trade, advising that the park apply stricter and more effective protection and management measures.

In October, Vietnam’s Deputy Prime Minister Hoang Trung Hai axed the two projects.

Earlier this year, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung called for all hydropower projects across the country to undergo thorough examinations in order to increase dam safety, and in May the government scrapped plans to build 338 hydropower plants because they didn’t meet environmental standards.

Neighborly relations

Last month following the decision to cancel the Dong Nai dams, International Rivers praised Vietnam for “taking measures to try and prevent impacts from dams built in neighboring countries, particularly those planned for the Mekong mainstream.”

It cited the Deputy Prime Minister’s efforts to convince Mekong countries to ratify a convention which would provide a mechanism to prevent dams from being built that could have large-scale trans-boundary impacts.

But International Rivers said that while Vietnam is making a concerted effort to evaluate the impact and safety of existing and planned dams in the country, “Laos is plowing ahead with plans to dramatically alter the Mekong mainstream, with no concern for the impacts on its neighbors, much less their input on the projects.”

It said Laos’ plans for the Don Sahong would “[put] the world’s largest inland fishery in jeopardy and [threaten] to push Vietnam and Cambodia closer to a food crisis.”

Commission challenges

The dam has prompted a formal complaint against Laos from downstream Cambodia to the Mekong River Commission (MRC), a four-nation body that oversees development along the key regional waterway.

Environmental groups have said Laos is avoiding MRC requirements to consult its neighbors before building the dam by claiming it is not on the Mekong mainstream.

Laos is also building the first dam on the mainstream Lower Mekong, the Xayaburi, which environmental groups have said poses a similar devastating threat to regional food security.

Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

November 15, 2013

The Dark Side Of Laos, As An Activist Vanishes Without A Trace

The Dark Side Of Laos, As An Activist Vanishes Without A Trace

Worldcrunch: (15 November 2013)

Bruno Philip (14/11/2013)

Click on the link to get more news and video from original source: http://www.worldcrunch.com/culture-society/the-dark-side-of-laos-as-an-activist-vanishes-without-a-trace/sombath-somphone-vientiane-laos-abduction/c3s14014/#.U9wQy2PQqS9

Article illustrative image

Le Monde – Sombath Somphone disappeared on Dec. 15, 2012

Police are monitoring traffic from a small wooden gatehouse in eastern Vientiane, on the outskirts of the Laotian capital. It was here nearly one year ago, opposite the Indian embassy, that 62-year-old Sombath Somphone mysteriously disappeared. The rural development promoter and farmers’ rights activist hasn’t been heard from since.

On Dec. 15, 2012, Somphone was driving behind his wife’s car in his Jeep. He was stopped by a traffic officer for an identity check. The policeman spoke with him through the car door. Somphone then stepped out and walked towards the gatehouse. Soon after, a man got off his motorcycle and climbed into Somphone’s Jeep and drove off.

A white pickup then parked on the side of the road, warning lights flashing, before two men — one of whom was Somphone — climbed in. That was the last sign of the popular activist.

CCTV footage — available on the website Sombath.org — has allowed his family to reconstruct the scenario. Since Somphone vanished, the police investigation that Laotian authorities claim to have conducted has been fruitless. What is clear is that his disappearance has all the markings of an abduction committed right before police eyes at rush hour.

“I have no idea who could be behind his abduction, or why it happened,” says Somphone’s Singaporian wife Ng Shui Meng by phone. “All I can say is that the police say that they don’t know who kidnapped him.”

The official version, repeated over and over again by the authorities and state media — the only authorized news agencies authorized in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic — is that Somphone may have been the victim of a “settling of personal accounts.” Deputy head of the police, Phengsavanh Thipphavongxay, has said that nothing proves Somphone was actually the one seen in the CCTV footage, but the missing man’s relatives have no doubt.

Theories abound

Many of his friends and NGO members within Vientiane’s foreign community think Somphone may have been abducted by a “parallel police” force or elements that are more or less controlled by a regime whose ideas with regards to development are starkly different from Somphone’s.

“Sombath claimed that the Laotian people weren’t ready for the brutal arrival of globalization,” one of his friends explains. But no one can provide evidence that the government was involved in his abduction. And his disappearance, which is still discussed endlessly within the NGO community, has allowed a climate of mistrust and fear to take hold in Vientiane.

“If one of the reasons he was abducted was to send a message to NGOs so they don’t cross any red line on issues that involve politics, then the operation has been a success,” one NGPO member says.

Everyone we spoke to for this story requested that their name and organization remain anonymous, which illustrates the atmosphere in Vientiane almost a year after Somphone’s disappearance.

The affair caused a stir. Somphone was not necessarily well-known across the whole country, beyond the reputation he built through his Participatory Development Training Center (PADETC) that helps farmers with training and education. But he was a well-recognized figure on an international level. In 2005, this former University of Hawaii agronomy and education student received the Ramon Magsaysay Award — the Asian equivalent of the Nobel Prize — for his work in rural areas.

The world has noticed

His abduction prompted international reaction, including a direct intervention from the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. “The U.S. share the serious concerns of the international community on Mr. Sombath Somphone’s situation,” he said March 24. “We ask the Laotian government to do all it can to provide a full account of Sombath Somphone’s disappearance without further delay.”

And on Oct. 28, while visiting Vientiane, the president of a European Parliament delegation for Southeast Asia, Werner Langen, was critical of Laotian authorities for not providing “any satisfying answers” to questions about Somphone’s disappearance.

“It seems hard to believe that the decision leading to his abduction was taken at a high level, given the amateur way those who took him away acted,” a diplomat said.

The kidnappers perhaps did not anticipate that Sombath Somphone’s family would signal his disappearance to the police the next day, and that they would then, without hesitating, show the CCTV footage to his sister and his wife. Since then, the blurry footage, which his family recorded on a cellphone, has been carefully guarded by police, who refuse to release the original video. “The Laotian authorities have refused every foreign offer of technical assistance to decipher the footage,” the same diplomat says.

Certain contextual elements could explain the efforts to silence Somphone. In early November 2012, the Asia–Europe Meeting (ASEM) in Vientiane gathered European and Asian representatives. Traditionally, the ASEM is preceded by an Asia-Europe People’s Forum, which gathers NGOs and international civil societies’ spokespeople. As co-president of the organizing committee, Somphone directed the preparation of a report, “The Lao People’s Vision,” a summary of interviews with people in rural communities. During the forum, some farmers had complained about the increasing land confiscations for the benefit of Vietnamese and Chinese companies cultivating rubber trees or mining.

In his report, Somphone noted that “the expectations of a major part of the Laotian people” had not been met, “especially in terms of improving their well-being and the living conditions of the rural Laotians, who represent the majority of the population.” It was a judgment that, though not a direct attack against the regime, may have upset certain figures in power.

Ng Shui Meng cannot believe that her husband’s disappearance may be linked to this remark. She also rejects the fact that he was an “activist” or a “militant.” “He often worked in good cooperation with people from the government,” she says. “Some of them even sent me expressions of their sympathy.”

The dark underbelly of Laos

Somphone’s abduction could illustrate, for some, the evolution of a regime where the emergence of managers linked to the party are combined with operating permits granted thanks to the sponsorship of wealthy families that resulted from former “revolutionary” circles — a Chinese-like evolution that combines strict political control, market economy … and corruption.

This evolution has had a fair amount of success: a growth rate of 8.3% in 2012, a GDP per capita and per year of $1,200 (it was $300 only 10 years ago). Laos has left the category of poor countries to be among the “medium- to low-income” countries. But who benefits from this development? “Growth, growth! Government people only know that word,” a foreigner living in Vientiane says angrily. “But what does that mean when disparities are getting bigger between those who got wealthy with the system, and farmers?”

“On the surface, Laos is a radiant and happy country, a haven for tourists in need of tropical exoticism,” one Laotian intellectual from Vientiane says. “But underneath, it’s very different, a place where it’s getting much harder to live.”

____________

Sombath Somphone | ສົມບັດ ສົມພອນ

November 8, 2013

Sombath Disappearance Could See a Review of EU Aid to Laos

Asian Beat

Sombath Disappearance Could See a Review of EU Aid to Laos

By  Luke Hunt

Click on the link to get more news and video from original source:  http://thediplomat.com/asean-beat/2013/11/08/sombath-disappearance-could-see-a-review-of-eu-aid-to-laos/

November 8, 2013

Image credit: Flickr (AK Rockefeller)

The European Union has put the case of the prominent development worker Sombath Somphone back on the international agenda, threatening to review foreign aid to Laos after officials there failed to offer a credible explanation for his disappearance 11 months ago.

Speaking on Australian radio, Werner Langen, delegation leader and Chairman of the ASEAN delegation in the European Parliament, also said Laos could become isolated in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) if the human rights situation in the country fails to improve.

“In our view, it seems to be impossible that the government knows nothing on this case. It was a disappearance under the guise of the Laos police and we say to the government we need a life sign, first of all. We need a life sign of Sombath,” he said.

With the exception of Singapore, ASEAN has, however, failed to act on Sombath’s probable kidnapping and possible murder, casting doubts on the group’s ability to do little more than trade among themselves.

Equally, the authority of Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong has been found wanting. His failure to provide any explanation at all has raised doubts over who is in charge – his communist party or the police.

Langen has just returned from Laos and was part of a second EU delegation to visit the country this year. After his first trip, in August, Langen concluded that the country was in a state of denial in regards to Sombath and as a result his case will now be discussed in the European parliament.

CCTV footage of Sombath surfaced shortly after he went missing on December 15, 2012. He was stopped by police on a major road and taken away by two unidentified men. The Laos government has rejected offers of forensic help from the EU and U.S.

Last month, Sombath’s Singaporean wife, Shui Meng, pleaded for her husband’s return. She said that he needed medical attention and promised to leave the country and live with him in quiet retirement.

Meng added that every day since her husband’s disappearance was “an eternity of waiting, wavering between hope and despair.”

“All I want is only the safe return of Sombath,” she said.

Previous calls have been made for donor countries to think twice before handing over taxpayer dollars to a country that still behaves like a police state.

“The human rights group calls also on other countries to do more to demand that the civil society leader, a victim of enforced disappearance, is found and returned safely to his family,” Rupert Abbott, Amnesty International’s Researcher on Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, said recently.

Luke Hunt can be followed on Twitter at @lukeanthonyhunt.

—-

Radio Australia

Laos facing possible aid review over missing activist, says Euro MP

Updated 7 November 2013, 13:31 AEST

A European parliamentary delegation says the Lao government has yet again failed to offer a credible explanation as to the whereabouts of a well-known rights activist.

It’s almost 11 months ago since the disappearance of the internationally-recognised development worker and teacher, Sombath Somphone.

And for the second time this year, a European delegation has visited Laos to press authorities on the case of the missing activist, but they say little progress has been made.

Presenter: Tom Maddocks

Speakers: Soren Sondergaard, delegation leader (August) and member of the European parliament; Werner Langen, delegation leader (October) and Chairman of the ASEAN delegation in the European Parliament; Rupert Abbott, Laos researcher, Amnesty International

MADDOCKS: In August, a European parliamentary delegation drew the conclusion that Lao authorities were “still in a state of denial” about the disappearance of Sombath Somphone.

The delegation was led by Danish member of parliament Soren Sondergaard.

SONDERGAARD: Our key message was that it is impossible in a country like theirs to accept that a person can disappear a few metres in front of a police control station, taken on camera, everything is taken on camera, and despite of that, eight months have gone without any result in the investigation.

MADDOCKS: And now almost 11 months on since Sombath Somphone’s apparent abduction, it seems the message is not getting through.

LANGEN: In our view, it seems to be impossible that the government knows nothing on this case. It was a disappearance under the guise of the Laos police and we say to the government we need a lifesign, first of all. We need a lifesign of Sombath.

MADDOCKS: Werner Langen led the latest effort to find out what happened.

His delegation met with the parliament, government and civil society. The case of Sombath Somphone was at the top of the agenda.

Soon after his disappearance on a busy road in the capital Vientiane on the 15th of December last year, CCTV footage surfaced.

It shows Sombath Somphone being stopped at a police checkpoint on the way home from his office, before being taken away in a truck by two unidentified men.

A sophisticated forensic analysis of the footage has not yet been made.

Laotian authorities continue to refuse offers of technical assistance from the EU and the United States.

As Chairman of the ASEAN delegation in the European Parliament, Werner Langen says Laos could become isolated in ASEAN if the human rights situation in the country fails to improve.

LANGEN: Our understanding is we discuss inside and outside view of human rights situation. We have ASEAN declaration on Human Rights. Laos has been a member of ASEAN since 1997 and Laos was completely isolated before, only 15 years ago. We understand our work as ASEAN delegation. We discussed human rights situation, democratic issues and our visit was in a situation for better understanding.

MADDOCKS: The delegation will present their findings in a report to the EU subcommittee on human rights and the foreign affairs committee.

The EU is one of the largest donors to Laos and when the parliament meets in the next month or so, Werner Langen says the EU’s sizeable support might well be reviewed.

LANGEN: Inside European parliament we need more access and better regulation on human rights. The European Union opened a delegation in 2003 and it’s giving an average of nearly 16 million Euros per year, especially against poverty and in different sectors, governance, rule of law, human rights, health education, agriculture, trade, climate change and this is the reason to discuss special cases like Sombath.

MADDOCKS: To coincide with the latest delegation to Laos, rights groups urged the EU to “use all its leverage”.

Amnesty International was one of those groups.

They’ve welcomed renewed pressure on the case of Sombath Somphone but they say it needs to go beyond just raising the case… concrete questions need to be asked.

ABBOTT: There are a lot of outstanding questions around Sombath’s disappearance including why can’t any of us see the original CCTV footage, the traffic camera footage that captured him being taken from a police post? Why can’t the families see that? Why can’t other countries help with analysing the footage to find out who might have been responsible for taking Sombath. You know, we welcome the fact that many countries had raised the case when it happened, raised their concern. But what we’ve found is often it stops at that. That it’s kind of an item on the agenda when foreign dignitaries meet with their Laos counterparts and then kind of that’s it.

MADDOCKS: Ng Shui Meng is the wife of Sombath Somphone.

Last month, she told The Age newspaper in Australia that if her husband is returned, they will leave Laos and retire quietly.

Every day since Sombath disappeared has been “an eternity of waiting,” she said, “wavering between hope and despair.”

European delegation chair Werner Langen says the Laos government needs to give a sign that Sombath is still alive.

LANGEN: I think the government could be able to deliver.

MADDOCKS: Why do you think that? What indication have they given you?

LANGEN: No concrete indications. That is the problem. Our ambassador in Laos is also on the way to discuss it with authorities in Laos and we hope that Sombath could be, I don’t know exactly, we don’t have a lifesign at the moment and we hope that Sombath could come back to his family.

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