Why this is important
In 2005 he received the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership. Mr. Sombath has been recognized for his pursuit of small-scale people-centered socio-economic upliftment, using a variety of avenues, more recently in the areas of youth training and handicraft, for the people of Laos.
According to information collated, on the evening of December 15, Mr. Sombath was driving his jeep in Laos-capital Vientiane, following the car driven by his Singaporean wife Ng Shui Meng to their home from office for dinner, when he was hailed down by two policemen on Thadeu Road. Recorded footage of a screening of what is purported to be the closed-circuit television capture of the incident shows the arrival of an unidentified man on motorcycle, who hurries over to the police post where Mr. Sombath is being questioned, soon after Mr. Sombath steps out of his jeep. Later, the same motorcyclist appears to drive Mr. Sombath’s jeep away. The footage further shows the arrival of a white pick-up truck, with flashing hazard lights.
On Dec 19, the Laotian government has responded to his wife appeals and the footage of what appears to be an enforced disappearance by offering that it is “possible Mr. Sombath has been kidnapped perhaps because of a personal conflict or a conflict in business.” This statement by a Lao Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman, appearing on the website of state news agency KPL, is reported to also argue that the men in the video cannot be identified and that there is no sign of anyone being forced into a vehicle, while also maintaining that “authorities concerned are currently and seriously investigating.”
Links are instead being drawn between Sombath’s disappearance and his involvement with the controversial the Asia People’s Forum 9 (AEPF9), particularly his support for people who made statements advocating for the rights of villagers who are suffering from the loss of their customary lands and resources. As Sombath’s wife has reiterated in public comments, government officials were also involved with the National Organizing Committee of the AEPF9, so the event as a whole should not have been tainted. Sombath’s case was discussed at an event on December 21st at the Thai Foreign Correspondents Club and has been the subject of comments, letters and diplomatic statements in a number of countries.
Let’s join voices that have raised concern for the safety and well-being of Mr. Sombath, a man recognized for having dedicated his life for the welfare of fellow Laotians.