• Two years on, still no sign of Laos’ activist Sombath

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    BANGKOK: Rights groups on Monday urged Southeast Asian nations to turn up the pressure on Laos over the disappearance of prominent activist Sombath Somphone who vanished from the streets of Vientiane two years ago.

    Sombath, an award-winning campaigner for sustainable development, disappeared after he was pulled over at a police checkpoint in the Laos capital on the evening of December 15, 2012.

    His case has cast a dark cloud over civil society in Laos, an impoverished tightly-controlled communist country, and raised the issue of impunity for powerful state and business interests held responsible for routinely killing or “disappearing” activists across the region.

    A group of around 80 regional rights groups said the Laos government’s silence on Sombath was part of a strategy of “consigning to oblivion” crimes of enforced disappearance.

    “Regrettably, all other Asean member states have remained conspicuously silent on the issue of Sombath’s disappearance,” the groups said in a joint statement released by the International Federation of Human Rights.

    Asean, the often cosy 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations diplomatic club, must “break its silence” over the issue, the statement said.

    Major global figures including Hillary Clinton, John Kerry and Archbishop Desmond Tutu have called for Sombath’s safe return, while a 2013 European Union delegation to Laos pressed for the stale probe into his disappearance to be revived.

    Diplomats and rights groups in Laos have told Agence France-Presse the last time the authorities gave an update on their investigation into Sombath’s disappearance was June 2013.

    CCTV cameras in Vientiane captured the moment his battered jeep stopped at the police checkpoint. Sombath is later seen getting into an unknown vehicle.

    AFP

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