As 7th Anniversary of Lao Activist’s Disappearance Approaches, More Remain Missing

As families and rights groups prepare to mark the seventh anniversary Sunday of prominent Lao activist Sombath Somphone's disappearance, the families of two other missing activists are lamenting the lack of answers from the communist government on their loved ones.

Sombath Somphone, who disappeared on Dec. 15, 2012 when police stopped him in his vehicle at a checkpoint on the outskirts of the capital Vientiane, will be remembered at an event in Bangkok, Thailand next week.

[We] will talk about the progress of Sombath's investigation on and will discuss what to do next because it's been quite a long time without any progress, Soontaree Nakaviroj, an administrator of the Focus on the Global South NGO, told RFA's Lao Service.

She added that there had been no progress from the Lao government, so human rights groups in Asia have to discuss why there has been no headway in the investigation and what steps should be taken to get the authorities to provide information.

Before his abduction, Sombath had challenged massive land deals negotiated by the government that had left thousands of rural Lao villagers homeless with little paid in compensation. The deals sparked rare popular protests in Laos, where political speech is tightly controlled.

RFA contacted the office handling the investigation on Dec. 12, but a police officer refused to provide information on the phone.

This is a case I don't know [well] and I don't know what the working group has done, the officer said.

If you want to know [more], you can come in with documentation, the officer added.

A civil society organization (CSO) officer in Thailand who used to work with Sombath who declined to be named said CSOs view Sombath Somphone's disappearance with concern and regret.

The disappearance is regrettable because Sombath is a good person who did not cause trouble for anybody, said the source. He did nothing wrong, and only wanted to support sustainable development in order to help the poor.

The source said it was difficult to understand why seven years have passed without any information into Sombath's whereabouts.

My thoughts are the same as many people and organizations abroad, the source said.

Usually we pay attention and have confidence that a government would take responsibility to properly investigate and find answers, but we are still confused on why it's already been seven years with no answers, said the source.

Just like Sombath's family, we hope there will be an answer, we won't forget Sombath whether we are inside or outside of Laos.

Other disappearances

Meanwhile, family members of two other recently disappeared Lao activists updated RFA with the latest information on their cases.

Phetphouthon Philachane, a Lao migrant who lived in Thailand went missing on November 14 while visiting family in Laos, is believed by friends and some members of his family to have been abducted because of his involvement in protests at the Lao embassy in Bangkok.

His sister told RFA that she had no idea what she should do at this point.

I don't know what to do to find his whereabouts, she said.

I called my father to see if he had the contact number of our relative with whom my brother had been staying on November 13 and 14, but he said he does not know anything, she added.

If [Phetphouthon] has gone into hiding, he surely would have tried to contact me because he is an adult with sense of responsibility and a family man, she said.

He was always concerned about our old mother. Something must have happened to him, she said.

Additionally, police in Thailand have still made no progress in the investigation into Od Sayavong's disappearance.

The 34-year-old Lao democracy advocate went missing in Thailand in August. The lack of progress is raising concerns among human rights organizations monitoring his case.

Od's younger brother told RFA, I have not heard anything new about my brother since he disappeared. Thai police told me they would call me if they have the information about him, but so far they have not contacted me.

I think my brother might have been arrested or might have disappeared. If he has not been arrested or killed, surely he would have [by now] come to meet me because he usually contacts me, said Od's brother.

I would like the relevant officials to urgently investigate his whereabouts because the surrounding areas nearby his residence have many security cameras, but he does not appear in any footage, which is surprising.

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