The United States has said it is “deeply concerned” that the fate of one of Laos’ most prominent social activists is still unknown, one year after he was abducted from a police checkpoint in Vientiane.
The abduction of Sombath Somphone, 61, at a busy traffic junction in the Laotian capital on December 15 last year was recorded on government surveillance cameras.
Despite calls by foreign governments and rights groups for information on Sambath’s disappearance, the Laos communist-led government has maintained almost complete silence on the matter.
“Laos has taken steps in recent years to become a responsible partner in the community of nations. Sombath’s abduction threatens to undermine those efforts,” the US Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement on Sunday.
“We call on the government to take all actions possible to ensure his safe return to his family.”
US Ambassador Daniel Clune, who arrived in Vientiane in mid-September, told Al Jazeera that the diplomatic community raised the abduction case with Lao President Choummaly Sayasone following a donor meeting.
“The president said he was very concerned about the disappearance and the government would continue to investigate,” Clune told Al Jazeera from Vientiane. “We take the president at his word. We remain deeply concerned over Sombath’s fate.”
Sunday’s statement said that the US welcomed Choummaly’s “concern”, but that it looks “forward to learning the results of a full, thorough, and transparent investigation”.
The Laos government did not respond to Al Jazeera’s repeated requests for comment. It has previously denied being involved in the community leader’s disappearance.
Human Rights Watch issued a statement on Monday, asking the Laos government to immediately disclose the fate of Sombath, calling the official investigation into the disappearance “inadequate”.
“One year since Sombath Somphone ‘disappeared’, the Lao government clearly hopes the world will just forget about what happened to one of its most prominent citizens,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
“Foreign donors to the Lao government should make Sombath’s enforced disappearance a priority until he can return home.”
Sombath is the founder and former director of the Participatory Development Training Centre in Laos. He is widely respected in the field of education and development both in Laos and across Asia. As a result of his work, Sombath received the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership, one of Asia’s top honours, in 2005.