Laos Blocks US Officials Probing Missing Citizens

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A file photo of the commercial center of Kaysone Phomvihane in the Lao Savannakhet province.
A file photo of the commercial center of Kaysone Phomvihane in the Lao Savannakhet province.

Authorities in Laos have obstructed U.S. investigations into the whereabouts of two U.S. citizens and an American permanent resident who have been reported missing in the Southeast Asian nation for more than two months, according to a State Department official.

The official for the first time confirmed that the three men—two Lao Americans and one Lao U.S. permanent resident—had gone missing in Laos, saying family members, relatives, and friends of the trio had told U.S. Embassy officials in Vientiane that they have not seen or heard from them since Jan. 6.

The three men were last seen in Savannakhet, the largest province in Laos in the southern part of the country, and initial reports had said that they may have died in a traffic accident.

"A consular official and two embassy staff traveled to Savannakhet on March 6 to investigate reports that the three men may have died in a car accident," the State Department official told RFA, speaking on condition of anonymity.  

"During the Embassy officials’ two-day visit, local Lao officials refused to provide any information or assistance in determining the welfare and whereabouts of the missing men, and physically prevented the Embassy officials from entering an incident site which may be related to the case," the official said.

'Multiple requests'

The U.S. government, according to the official, has "made multiple requests to the government of Laos to provide us with information and assistance that would help us determine the welfare and whereabouts of these individuals."

"We will continue to vigorously press the Lao government for information and assistance with this case," the official said.

Relatives and friends have said that the three men, Souli Kongmalavong, Bounthieng Insixiengmai, and Bounma Phannhotha, disappeared after traveling to a funeral in Savannakhet province.

Local police contacted by RFA’s Lao Service had earlier confirmed that they are looking for the men, who sources said disappeared after leaving Savannakhet city to drive to Kengkok village in Champon district for a funeral.

Police in Sonburi district, which neighbors Champon, said that during the investigations, they had recovered a burned van on Jan. 6 with three bodies—those of two men and one woman—but the remains could not be identified due to their condition.

The police officer who spoke to RFA added that the license number of the van could not be identified and that police believe the vehicle caught fire after running off the side of the road.

Missing activist

Map of Savannakhet province in Laos.
Map of Savannakhet province in Laos. RFA

News on the missing trio surfaced as Lao authorities continue to come under pressure to provide information about leading local social activist Sombath Somphone's disappearance since December 2012 after he was stopped at a police checkpoint in Vientiane.

Rights groups have raised concerns that Sombath, one of Laos’s most prominent civil society figures, was targeted for his rights work, with some saying they fear he was forcibly disappeared by Lao authorities.

A Minnesota-based Lao-American group had expressed concern about the safety of the three men in the wake of Sombath’s disappearance.

“We are deeply worried that, based upon some reports, they may have been wrongly detained or arrested by the Lao military or secret police,” said Boon Boualaphanh, President of the United Lao for Democracy and Human Rights.

A close friend of Souli’s in Savannakhet, speaking on condition of anonymity, had said that Souli had been missing since early January after leaving for the funeral of Bounthieng’s brother-in-law.

Other sources said that Bounthieng and Bounma were driving with Souli to the funeral.

Reported by RFA's Lao Service. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.

Comments (11)


from Fresno

Lao government is a such lier, no one will believe in plus police officers are thieves too. They try to take money from Hmong and Lao's American. They are not afraid of us because they think that we are refugee. They think that they have more power than us.. if they ask something from us, they get it from us, they kill us. It is truth..

Apr 24, 2013 10:26 PM

Anonymous Reader

Space to add comment is so tortured!!!

Mar 29, 2013 03:08 AM

Khmu Lao

from Udomxay

I am writing on behalf Lao Communist, You guy from no where ! in Laos we live in very simple and peace way,but you are trying to create the way of conflicting to Lao People, no matter rich or poor, developed or undeveloped, we are in unity and harmonious. you guy don't try to look down or blame Lao Government, Lao is Lao will not become other nation.
keep saying a good thing on each other and understand each other then you can come to laos safely, no disappearing happen anymore, the one who missed because their actions, do good will receive good,do bad will get bad result... remember this Quot !!!!!

Mar 26, 2013 11:46 PM

Anonymous Reader

All communist countries in Asia are the same, brutal rulers must be held accountable.

Mar 22, 2013 09:54 AM


from california

Remember, lao government is your lao's leader, he is communist's leader. He will do anything he wants to do to anyone who arrives and lives in lao. He has no mercy at all. Lao's government say something, he does something behind your back and around you because the government borned with communist's blood. He should change his attitude and thought to a modernize world. He cheats lao's population moeny from other country contribution. Please stop continue to do it. Shame on you if you don't change the way lao's government reacts every day and on. He trust himself, not his family, relatives, cousins, others.

Mar 20, 2013 11:44 PM

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