Lonely vigil for missing Laotian activistBy Asia Sentinel Oct 03, 2013 1:41PM UTC
Government suspected of complicity in development expert’s disappearance, writes Asia Sentinel’s John Berthelsen
For Ng Shui-Meng, the past 10 months have been lonely, frustrating and frightening. She has been engaged in a vain struggle to discover what happened to her husband, Sombath Somphone, who almost certainly was kidnapped and murdered, possibly with the complicity of members of the Laotian government.
Shui-Meng refuses to give up, hoping that the 61-year-old Sombath, a popular and internationally known development expert who disappeared last Dec. 6 as he was on his way home to dinner, may still be alive. There are suspicions that Sombath had aroused the antagonism of major land interests over his attempts to protect the interests of the largely rural peasant population.
An estimated 40 percent of the country’s arable lands are now in the hands of foreign interests, studies say. However, his wife says Sombath has never been confrontational and had worked closely with the government to alleviate poverty.
Sombath, recipient of the 2005 Ramon Magsaysay Award and many other prestigious honors, simply vanished as he and Shui-Meng were driving home in separate cars in the Laotian capital of Vientiane. The disappearance has stirred criticism from the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and a wide range of human rights organizations for the government’s apparent refusal to come clean on the case.
“I was driving ahead of him in a separate vehicle, and he was behind mine, so I passed a police post, and when I looked back I didn’t see his car,” the Singaporean-born Shui-Meng said in an interview. “I didn’t think too much about it, but when I got home, he didn’t come. I called his phone, but it was switched off. I thought maybe he had been in an accident.”
After a day of looking for him, she and friends went to the police post where “we noticed there were cameras installed,” she said. “And so we decided to ask the police if they would play the tape and they said ‘sure.’”
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