Asean MPs: Where is Lao activist?

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Southeast Asian MPs have demanded a speedy investigation into the disappearance of Lao activist Sombath Somphone, who has been missing for a month.

Philippine MP Walden Bello on Wednesday criticised the investigation by Lao police, saying it was moving too  slowly. The Magsaysay award winner was last seen in Vientiane on Dec 15, when he left his office to go home to his wife.

The Lao government should come up with clear answers for his disappearance as soon as possible, he added.

Video footage from surveillance cameras posted days after he vanished by his relatives shows his jeep was stopped by traffic police on the outskirts of Vientiane. His vehicle was driven away by an unknown person and he was taken away in a pickup truck.

His whereabouts is still in mystery. The Lao government has said personal conflict could be the cause of his disappearance, but activists are far from convinced.

Mr Bello is a member of a team of parliamentarians from the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia who visited the Lao capital from Sunday to Tuesday to follow up on the case in talks with Lao lawmakers and senior government officials.

They were told that there was no evidence that Mr Sombath was taken into the pickup truck shown on the video footage.

“We were told that after a month of investigation, the only thing that has been established is the police had nothing to do with his disappearance,” Mr Bello said.

Lao authorities suspected that he was kidnapped, but the MPs of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) found no grounds for this as no ransom had been demanded, he added.

The delegation members suspected that Mr Sombath’s disappearance was linked to the Asia Europe People’s Forum held in Vientiane in October, during which he brought up the issue of environmental degradation and illicit land acquisition for economic development, including an invitation for a female villager to the conference to tell her story of land grabbing.

But Sakayane Sisouvong, Lao permanent secretary for foreign affairs, denied the connection, Mr Bello said.

Charles Santiago, a Malaysian MP, expressed disappointment with the Laos investigation, saying it was conducted by low-ranking authorities.

Unsatisfied with poor information provided by Lao officials, Indonesia MP Lily Wahid said regional lawmakers will put pressure on the Lao government to give them an answer on the case.

The delegation will also report the case to the Asean Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights to press Laos to search for the well-respected activist.

“We want to know where Sombath is now,” Ms Wahid said.

Mr Sombath won the prestigious Magsaysay Award in 2005 for Community Leadership.

About the author

Writer: Paritta Wangkiat

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