UNITED STATES President Barack Obama plans to meet with the wife of a missing Laotian activist and stay in regular contact with her, said deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes.
Rhodes told reporters he will meet with Shui Meng Ng on Thursday while Obama is still in Laos. The president arrived on Monday to attend a regional summit.
Human rights activists were hoping that Obama would speak about Ng’s husband, Sombath Somphone, who was apparently picked up by security forces on Dec. 15, 2012. He has not been seen since.
Obama has not mentioned him so far in his public remarks, but Rhodes said Tuesday that “we care very deeply about her case and her husband, and we believe she deserves to know what happened to her husband.”
According to the Associated Press, Rhodes said the Laotian government has told the U.S. the same thing it tells Sombath’s wife — that it is looking into his disappearance.
“Oftentimes, they indicate that they do not know, and that there’s an ongoing investigation,” Rhodes said.
Laos has been under a communist government since 1975. It has opened up considerably in the past two decades and has been willing to build ties with the U.S. which bombed the tiny Southeast Asian nation heavily during the war in neighboring Vietnam. But it retains a one-party political system and is intolerant of dissent.
Friends and associates earlier said Sombath’s work was neither directly political nor confrontational. He believed deeply in people-centered sustainable development, education and youth development and worked to foster these programs for his country.
Sombath, who was 60 when he went missing, received the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership, one of Asia’s top civil honors, in 2005. He was director of the Participatory Development Training Centre, which he founded in 1996 to promote education and leadership skills. He is also involved in a small enterprise selling village handicrafts.
The Laotian government has, however, disavowed responsibility for the disappearance and suggested he had been kidnapped over a personal dispute.
CCTV footage shows Somphone being detained near a police station in Vientiane, the capital, then escorted out of the building and driven away in another vehicle. The last person to see him before his abduction was his wife.
Additional reporting from the Associated Press