U.S. demands that Laos resolve case of key activist abducted from police post three years ago

AP

The United States called Wednesday for Laos to immediately resolve the case of prominent activist whose abduction three years ago sent a “chilling message” to civil society.

The State Department statement came as the top U.S. envoy for East Asia prepares to travel to communist-governed Laos, which next year will chair the Southeast Asian regional bloc, a key diplomatic partner for Washington.

The activist, Sombath Somphone, was abducted from a police checkpoint in the capital Vientiane on Dec. 15, 2012. Closed circuit television showed him being escorted by two men to a pickup truck and driven away.

Department spokesman John Kirby said the U.S. is troubled that no progress has been made in locating Somphone and called on the Laotian government to conduct a thorough and transparent investigation.

“The United States remains deeply concerned over his fate and the chilling message his abduction sends to members of civil society and the people of Laos more broadly,” Kirby said.

Laos has denied its security apparatus was behind the disappearance and says an investigation continues, but has provided little information about it despite repeated appeals from the U.S. and other Western nations.

Sombath championed young people’s participation in development and in 2005 won the Magsaysay Award, Asia’s equivalent of the Nobel Peace Prize. He was not considered overtly political but his advocacy for civil society may have been considered a threat by the authoritarian regime that has ruled since 1975.

Also Wednesday, Democratic Rep. Alan Lowenthal criticized suppression of labor rights, persecution of ethnic minorities like the Hmong and detention of political prisoners in Laos.

“As Laos prepares to chair the ASEAN next year and the U.S. and Laos seek greater ties, we must make sure that human rights are a priority for the United States in developing this relationship,” he said, referring to the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations. He was speaking at a human rights seminar on Capitol Hill.

President Barack Obama is expected to visit Laos next fall when it hosts a summit of East Asian leaders. Obama would be the first U.S. president to visit the country, which was heavily bombed by the U.S. during the Vietnam War.

Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel will meet with government and party officials in Vientiane this week.

T. Kumar, international advocacy director for Amnesty International USA, said that an annual gathering of international and regional nongovernment organizations usually held in the country that chairs ASEAN will be held elsewhere to protest Somphone’s disappearance.

  • Colin V

    He’s most likely deceased. My community has had many people go missing on return trips to Laos due to our support of the USA during the Vietnam War. We paid the price, still pay it while the governments are working together (the two entities that started the war). We died by the tens of thousands and some are still dying, old allies of the USA Laos promised to perpetrate genocide on. They are still murdering those old allies even though Laos and USA have “normalized” relations now. So first the USA abandons most of us to die by the hands of the Pathet Lao and now they’re working with them while they are actively still hunting down and killing old US allies.

    • Zendi Zong

      The Hmong were never integrated into the Laotian main stream society. The Hmong aren’t only a threat to Laos and the Lao government. But also a threat to Laos future social society as Lao people. Sorry Hmong people. They just need to let Laos go since that was never your homeland or where the Hmong were apart of the Laotian society to rebuild Laos future. As a Laotian myself. I am against Hmong influence in Laos because of the lack of integration and trust there. Also Hmong people don’t speak our language or has cultural similarity.

    • Nkajlo Vangh

      Even if dead, we want his body to be buried properly and in a dignified religious way. What happened to Sombat is around all of Lao activists.

    • Nkajlo Vangh

      Even if dead, we want his body to be buried properly and in a dignified religious way. What happened to Sombat is around all of Lao activists.

  • Nkajlo Vangh

    Amazing timing for U.S to do the right thing for humanity. Finally, the 40 years of silence is too much sin to handle. Not too late. Merry X-mas and happy New Year!

    • Zendi Zong

      It’s too late. 40+ years of absent is far too long. Most of the original descendants already pass away. I don’t expect the Hmong to lead such future role since they are far from ever integrated with the Lao community and in Laos.

  • Nkajlo Vangh

    Amazing timing for U.S to do the right thing for humanity. Finally, the 40 years of silence is too much sin to handle. Not too late. Merry X-mas and happy New Year!

  • Zendi Zong

    The truth of the matter of fact is that not only the Laos government is behind this problems. It is more complex then it is. Vietnam or Hanoi is behind Laos government actions against Laotian overseas because those Vietnamese cronies in Hanoi are afraid of any future political and social threat to Vietnam influence in the regions, especially Laos as a core blockade. This is another reason of the Hmong ethnic cleansing. It is all backed and run by Vietnam.

  • Mao Yang

    It is time for the US to take the lead to pressure Laos to address this issue. The Lao Government has kidnapped and prosecuted many US’ citizens without an explanation. It’s time.

  • Pao Xiong

    Laos will never admit to anything. They will lie to their teeth. They have been lie since Vietnam War that why the US lose the war in Laos. They hide all the MIA, but They pretend like they don’t know. Mr. Sombath’s case will never resolve, just like Vue Mai. Unless the USA, n other country cut found, freeze their funds that they hide around the world. Laos will take their time as long as possible so people around the world are forgot about & less important & less urgent.