Laos authorities obstruct embassy officials seeking info on 3 missing Laotian-Americans

U.S. Says Laos Blocking Investigation Into Disappearance of 3 Men

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Published: March 19, 2013

BANGKOK — The American ambassador to Laos said on Tuesday that the Laotian authorities had blocked a United States investigation into the disappearance of two citizens and a resident of the United States.

The three men, all of Laotian origin, were last seen in the southern province of Savannakhet in January.

Karen B. Stewart, the ambassador to Laos, said in a telephone interview that officials in Savannakhet had barred access to a team of American investigators sent this month to gather details in the case.

“The police were there, and they said we could not go any further,” she said.

Ms. Stewart described the lack of cooperation by the Laotian authorities as “very frustrating.”

“We have been and continue to press the Lao government vigorously,” she said.

The disappearance of the three men, who were reportedly in the country to attend a funeral, followed the disappearance in December of an American-trained agriculture specialist, Sombath Somphone, in the capital, Vientiane.

Despite pressure from foreign governments, the Laotian authorities have refused to release video of a police checkpoint in Vientiane where Mr. Sombath was last seen.

Laos, an impoverished former French colony with a population of six million, has moved to liberalize its economy and promotes itself as a tourist destination, but the ruling Communist Party fiercely defends its monopoly on power and vigorously cracks down on dissent.

Laotian security services have been linked to a string of politically motivated assassinations of Laotian citizens in neighboring Thailand over the past decade. And activists, especially people who challenge rampant land seizures, are regularly arrested or disappear.

A woman in central Khammouan Province who led villagers in a protest against land seizures was released in February after being held incommunicado for more than three months. Another Laotian citizen who spoke out against land seizures, Sompawn Khantisouk, disappeared in 2007 and has not been seen since.

Information about the disappearance of the three men in January is vague. The American investigating team was seeking access to the site where a van was reportedly discovered with remains of three bodies inside.

Laotian advocacy groups in the United States have identified the men as Souli Kongmalavong, Bounthie Insixiengmai and Bounma Phannhotha. The advocacy groups issued a statement on Sunday saying the men may have been detained and killed by the military or the police, but the statement provided no further details.

“Persecution and political violence are on the upswing in Laos,” the statement said.

Relations between Laos and the United States have improved in recent years but remain fragile. During the Vietnam War, the United States heavily bombed Laos and recruited hill tribes to fight Communist forces.

US: Laos authorities obstruct embassy officials seeking info on 3 missing Laotian-Americans

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By Associated Press, Published: March 19

WASHINGTON — The State Department says authorities in Laos have obstructed U.S. Embassy efforts to investigate the disappearance of three Laotian-Americans in southern Laos in January.

A department official said Tuesday two Embassy staff members traveled March 6 to Savannakhet province to investigate reports that the men may have died in a car accident. Local officials refused to provide any information and physically prevented them from entering a site which may be related to the case.

The U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to speak on-the-record about the case, said the U.S. will continue to press the Lao government for assistance.

Khammanh Kongdaravong (kam-MAHN kong-DAH-rah-wong) said Tuesday she was still waiting for information about her husband Souli (SOO-lee), one of three missing Minnesota residents.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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