BANGKOK-The wife of one of the 16 men extradited from Thailand to Laos this week, six months after a Thai court ordered them freed, says she fears for her husband�s life now that he is in Lao custody.

The Thai government says it has received assurances from Laos that the men will face trial for robbery �under Lao laws� in connection with a July 2000 raid on a Lao-Thai border checkpoint that the raiders say was politically motivated.

But Saythong Homnouane, whose husband Thongdy Homnouane, 47, is among the 16 raiders now back in Laos, said she was heartbroken by news of her husband�s deportation and believes any legal proceedings against the men will be illegitimate.

�There�s no way they are going to be questioned or investigated,� she told RFA�s Lao service. �I think all I can do now is wait for the time to make merit [for their souls]. Why were they not deported right at the beginning of the ordeal [in 2000] instead of sending them to their certain death now? Why torture the families like this?�

Lao Foreign Minister Somsavat Lengsavat has said on several occasions that they won�t face execution.

�Regarding their safety, the Lao government has assured us that these people will be tried under their laws. The whole process will follow Lao laws, and they will have all the rights they are entitled to under Lao laws,� the Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman said.

On July 4, Thai authorities repatriated them men�six months after a Thai appeal court threw out a Lao extradition request and ordered the men freed within 48 hours. All 16 men were removed from the Immigration Detention Center in Bangkok and taken under guard to Oubol in southern Thailand.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) had deemed all 16 men �persons of concern� eligible to be considered for asylum and resettlement in a third country. On Dec. 30 last year, a Thai appeal court upheld a lower-court ruling that the men shouldn�t be extradited and ordered them freed within 48 hours. Why Thai authorities failed to release the men remains unclear.

Lao Foreign Ministry spokesman Yong Chanthalangsy welcomed the deportations, which he said were �in accordance with the agreement between the Lao and Thai governments made during the joint cabinet meetings in Champassak and Oubol in June 20-21, 2004.�

�The deportation of these people was in accordance with the spirit of the two governments. We see it as a good omen for bilateral cooperation for keeping peace and order in our border areas,� Chanthalangsy said.

�As to how and when they are going to be indicted, I still don�t know. It�s up to the court. It depends on how long it will take to build the case. But everything will go in due process, according to Lao laws,� he said.

Sources in Laos say they men are being held in a Champassak provincial prison.

Laos, under communist rule since 1975, had asked Thailand repeatedly to extradite the 16 Lao and 11 Thai nationals accused of taking part in the raid. A seventeenth Lao suspect died in Thai custody.

A group of some 60 men seized the Vang Tao border post on July 4, 2000. They held the post overnight, hoisting the old Lao national flag until a deadly firefight with Lao troops drove them out and across the Thai border.

The raiders, according to local sources, demanded Lao political reform before they would free seven Lao hostages. After they were assured their demand was under consideration, they freed the hostages. Lao troops then opened fire, killing six raiders and driving the rest into the jungle.

A Thai trial court in Oubol Province and an appellate court in Bangkok rejected Vientiane�s extradition requests on grounds that the raid preceded any relevant treaty between the two governments and that eyewitness accounts presented by Laos were insufficiently compelling to implicate the Lao suspects.

But the men remained in Thai custody for illegal entry.

According to the most recent State Department report on human rights around the world, most Lao trials in 2003 were �little more than pro forma examinations of the accused, with a verdict having already been reached. Most criminal trials reportedly ended in convictions. Defendants sometimes were not permitted to testify on their own behalf. Trials for alleged violations of some criminal laws relating to national security and trials that involved state secrets, children under the age of 16, or certain types of family law were closed.�

�In some instances, police administratively overruled court decisions, at times detaining a defendant exonerated by the court, in violation of the law,� the State Department report said. And while the Lao Constitution and Penal Code prohibit torture, �members of the security forces subjected prisoners to torture and other abuses.�

�Credible sources reported that detainees sometimes were subjected to beatings, long-term solitary confinement in completely darkened rooms, and burning with cigarettes. In some cases, detainees were held in leg chains or wooden stocks. During the year, several persons arrested for religious activity or suspected insurgent activity were held in wooden stocks or shackles for part of their confinement.�

The 16 men deported from Thailand to Laos are: Lom Salihom, 47; Kham Sayavong, 42; Sam Sayavong, 33; Sourya Samad, 29; Vixay Xayachak, 40; Seng Champa, 62; Teum Phomthevy, 34; Paisarn (Souay)Linthang, 27; Seng (Kabang) Sayboungna, 40; Keobouathong Vongphachanh, 38; Kene Singkhoumkhong, 32; Thongdy Homnouane, 47; Phailin Sayaboungna, 19; Napha Phothibandith, 35; Boonlod Khenesouvanh, 59; Souang Sengsoura, age unknown. Done Souryachanh, 58 and the leader of the group, died of tuberculosis in Thai custody. #####


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