NGO Director Reported Missing

The Lao director of a civil society group in Vientiane has disappeared, friends say.
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Sombath Somphone in an undated photo from PADETC's website.
Sombath Somphone in an undated photo from PADETC's website.
Photo courtesy of PADETC

Updated at 9:30 a.m. EST on 2012-12-18

The director of a Lao civil society group and recipient of a prestigious international award has gone missing at the same time as a friend and business associate, sources said Monday.

Sombath Somphone, executive director of the Participatory Development Training Centre (PADETC) in Vientiane, has been missing since he left the group’s office in Vientiane on the evening of Dec. 15, according to a friend.

Somphone, 60, is the recipient of the 2005 Ramon Magsaysay Award for community leadership for the group’s efforts to promote sustainable development through the training of young people.

The NGO head left the group’s office in Vientiane around 5:00 p.m. at the same time as his wife, Shui Meng Ng, but in a separate car, planning to meet her for dinner an hour later, according to the friend.

But the two were separated when she stopped at a gas station and he drove on ahead, according to the friend.

After he did not return home, Ng, who is a citizen of Singapore, searched for her husband in hospitals across the city and later reported his disappearance to the police, the friend said.

Another friend of Somphone’s, speaking on condition of anonymity from Vientiane, confirmed that the NGO head was missing and that his family was looking for him.

Somphone’s colleagues and fellow development workers have met with government officials to discuss the case and urge an immediate and thorough investigation, according to the first source.

They have also reported the case to the Singaporean and other embassies in Vientiane and to U.N. agency offices there, the source said.

Somphone, who had studied in the U.S. before returning to Laos to found PADETC’s precursor in 1980, in October represented local civil society groups as a member of Laos’s national committee at the Asia-Europe People’s Forum in Vientiane on the sidelines of an international summit.

PADETC, which receives funding from the Dutch-based Novib/Oxfam and the EU, among other agencies, works on poverty prevention and sustainability projects such as fuel-efficient stoves, fish farming promotion, recycling, media, school volunteers, and teacher training.

Missing friend

When asking acquaintances about Somphone’s whereabouts, friends and colleagues found that a friend of his visiting from the U.S. had also disappeared, according to the first source.

A representative at the U.S. State Department’s press office in Washington said Monday the office had no information about a U.S. citizen missing in Laos.

Somphone’s disappearance follows the expulsion from Laos earlier this month of a foreign NGO director who had spoken critically of the government.

Swiss development group Helvetas’s country director Anne-Sophie Gindroz was kicked out after receiving a 48-hour notice from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Dec. 7 saying she was no longer welcome in the country due to her “unconstructive attitude” toward the Lao government.

Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.

An earlier version of this story stated that Somphone went missing Dec. 16 instead of Dec. 15 and that the missing friend was staying at Somphone's relative's house.

Comments (6)

Anonymous Reader

From the CCTV footage, I dont think he was kidnapped by the Lao police. Who would be that stupid doing it in front of the camera and in such a public place. It looked like the traffic police were doing their duty on checking other vehicles and it seemed he got on the pick up truck voluntarily. I think the Lao police are smart enough. For sure, it was made up and plotted against the Gov. Poor Laos

Dec 26, 2012 02:21 AM

Anonymous Reader

No any dog was barking when the Thai police officers on duty have kidnapped and robbed the 3 Lao businessmen in Nakhone Phanom.

Dec 22, 2012 01:59 PM

Anonymous Reader

No any dog was barking when the thai policemen have robbed lao citizen in nakhon phanom.

Dec 21, 2012 06:11 PM

Anonymous Reader

He was kidnapped by Thai police in Laos? In front of Lao police station? Come on! T

Dec 20, 2012 09:38 AM


from USA

This is how the Lao government has been operated. The international communities should have known, but instead they decided to turn a blind eye. My sympathy goes to all the families of the missing travelers or workers in Lao.

Dec 20, 2012 09:19 AM

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