Missing Lao Civil Society Leader’s Wife Urges Action on His Case

By Richard Finney
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Sombath's wife Ng Shui Meng speaking in Washington, April 29, 2014.
Sombath's wife Ng Shui Meng speaking in Washington, April 29, 2014.

Five hundred days after Laos civil society leader Sombath Somphone went missing at a police checkpoint, his wife called on the United States Tuesday to press the authorities in the Southeast Asian state for answers over his disappearance.

Ng Shui Meng, Sombath’s Singapore-born wife who is in Washington to highlight her husband’s case, said she hopes in meetings with congressional and White House staffers to “ask for whatever support they can give” to get to the bottom of the issue.

“I believe that Laos wants good relations with the U.S.,” Ng told reporters at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, calling on U.S. leaders to raise Sombath's case at regional summits.

“A statement from [U.S. President Barack] Obama or from [Secretary of State] John Kerry when they attend critical meetings, ASEAN meetings … would be very good,” Ng said, referring to future gatherings of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), to which Laos belongs.

“I’m not sure what more can be done,” Ng said.

Sombath, 63, has been missing since Dec. 15, 2012, when he was stopped in his vehicle at a police checkpoint in the Lao capital Vientiane. He was then transferred into another vehicle, according to police surveillance video, and has not been heard from since.

Five hundred days after Sombath’s disappearance, “I am completely in the dark,” Ng said.

Lao officials say only that they are investigating the case and have denied involvement in the well-respected community development worker’s disappearance, suggesting he may have been kidnapped by “criminal elements,” Ng said.

‘My only desire is to see my husband return’

“For me, I’m not interested in who has taken Sombath, I’m only interested in getting Sombath back,” she said. “My only desire is to see my husband return.”

“Sombath is a Lao citizen, he was last seen at a police kiosk in Vientiane, and so I am appealing to the government to use all their resources to [find] the kidnappers,” she said.

Ng noted that Laos has growing economic and political links to other countries in Southeast Asia and outside the region and seeks membership on the U.N. Human Rights Council. It is also set to chair a meeting of ASEAN in two years’ time.

“[But] Sombath’s case has already drawn some negative impact on the image of Laos,” Ng said.

“I believe that it’s good to continue to engage the Lao government and persuade them that if something like this can be resolved quickly, it will be in the best interest of the country.”

Sombath was the recipient of the 2005 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership—Asia’s equivalent of the Nobel Prize—for his work in the fields of education and development.

Laos has turned down international requests to provide assistance in the investigations into Sombath's disappearance, including a U.S. offer to provide technical help to enhance the quality of some blurry images of the surveillance video footage.

Lao media silent

Meanwhile, Sombath’s case has gone unreported in Lao media, “despite the hundreds of articles that have been published on the case” elsewhere, Ng said.

“There seems to be a wall of silence that’s fallen inside the country,” she said, adding that people fear discussing Sombath’s case and that the space for civil society work in Laos has now “narrowed.”

Civil society groups now need more government approvals to pursue their projects, Ng said.

“They have to make sure all their papers are in order before they continue their work. Some civil society groups have scaled back,” she said.

“Others have continued, but with caution.”

Comments (5)

Huk PathetLao

from New Laos

That's very sad for Mr. Sombath Somphone's wife and family. There is no way he could come back but his spirit will maybe; we all know for fact, he was executed by Choummary Sayasone's boss;secret Vietcongs officers was behind all of this drama and the Game of Throne. LPDR government has changed their tactics; Lots of foreigners and investors from all over the places in S. East Asia step in since 2001 roughly. They would do anything just to grip in power under the communism regime and one party in power. Lao people will have to duck down in dirt and stay poor and struggle with no voices. They need to sacrifice for their country and willing to change. Lao PDR governments will need to pay for the price what they have done in the last 39 years.

May 25, 2014 12:46 PM



May 07, 2014 07:25 AM


from Krypton

That's right. Anyone in Laos caught talking about missing persons abducted by the government will disappear too. Welcome to communist Laos, land of the freedom of speech and press. By the way, do you really think USA and EU really gives a damn about Sombath?

May 05, 2014 08:52 AM

phetsakhat sorphainam

from vientiane

the people in laos are not allowed to talk about the disappearance of sombath and whoever talk that person will be arrested that means the lao government want to keep secret and the lao government also said that sombath could have been kidnapped because of personel or business conflict so my guestion to lao government is, where did that kidnapper come from ? so any thing happen in laos the government should be able to know because they have been controling the country (laos) since 1975.

Apr 30, 2014 11:41 AM

Anonymous Reader

It seemed that United States is so reluctant to pressure the Lao government to answer about the case. All they do is talking and no action has been taking against the Lao government. There is the same as EU. How many times did EU come to Lao to find the answer? All they did were talking and no action. They all just pretend that they are really caring about your missing husband. But the reality is that they have done nothing to solve the case

Apr 29, 2014 10:28 PM

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