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BANGKOK (AP) — A team of European lawmakers on Wednesday criticized the Lao government’s failure to accept international help in solving the mysterious disappearance of a prominent social activist eight months ago.
Sombath Somphone was last seen in closed-circuit video footage when he was stopped at a police checkpoint in the Lao capital of Vientiane on Dec. 15. The government of the Southeast Asian country denies knowledge of his fate.
Speaking to reporters in Bangkok, the capital of neighboring Thailand, lawmaker Soren Bo Sondergaard of Denmark denounced Laos’ refusal of international assistance to interpret the footage.
He also accused government officials of telling ‘‘ridiculous lies’’ by suggesting that the person in the video might not be Sombath.
‘‘We have to say, based on our experience in the last few days, that what the regime has done to investigate this is not sufficient,’’ Sondergaard said after the delegation’s three-day visit to Laos.
‘‘Every day spent without giving any acceptable answers to this very serious and symbolic case … is very damaging to the international image of Laos,’’ the delegation said in a statement.
A spokesman for Laos’ Foreign Ministry did not respond to calls or emails seeking comment.
The case has put a rare spotlight on the authoritarian nation’s murky governance and human rights record. Laos remains one of the most politically repressive countries in Asia, even as it makes a transition from communism to a more open market economy.
Laos’ government is intolerant of dissent, but associates say Sombath’s work was neither directly political nor confrontational. Educated in the U.S., he won one of Asia’s top civil awards in 2005 for his work reducing poverty and promoting education at a training center he founded.
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By Jonah Fisher BBC News, Bangkok
European parliamentarians have accused the Lao authorities of telling them “ridiculous lies” in relation to the disappearance of leading civil society figure Sombath Somphone.
He was last seen in December when CCTV footage showed him being stopped at a police checkpoint and forcibly bundled into another car.
Authorities say that they cannot find Mr Sombath despite the video evidence.
Laos has been run by the Communist party since 1975.
Both civil society and media are tightly controlled.
Eight months after his disappearance there is still no information about what happened to Sombath Somphone.
This was the third parliamentary delegation from the European Union to travel to the capital, Vientiane.
As with the other two – the Lao authorities told them they had made no progress but rejected offers of technical help.
The Danish head of the delegation, Soren Bo Sondergard, said it was clear from their discussions that the Lao authorities were in denial and at times had told them “ridiculous lies”.
Lao police say they have not been able to identify any of the people or vehicles involved in Mr Sombath’s abduction.
Many believe that he was taken by elements within the security establishment – angered by his role in organising the Asia-Europe People’s Forum in October last year.
Lao society and public debate is tightly controlled and at the time the Forum was seen as an unprecedented opening up of political space.
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