Laos urged to intensify missing activist probe

 Laos urged to intensify missing activist probe
Sombath Somphone, 62-year-old award-winning Laos civil society activist.

BANGKOK - A European Union lawmaker pressed Laos Wednesday to intensify an investigation into the disappearance of a prominent activist, after raising the case during a trip to the secretive communist state.

Sombath Somphone, 62, was last seen in December 2012 being led away by police in Vientiane after his car stopped at a checkpoint.

CCTV images later emerged appearing to show him being driven away with two unidentified people.

The US and EU have joined rights groups in calling for Sombath's safe return, and an official European Parliament delegation is expected to raise his disappearance when it travels to Laos in October.

"The Laos regime is still in a state of denial... what the regime (is doing) to investigate is not sufficient," Danish MEP Soren Bo Sondergaard told reporters in Bangkok, after returning Tuesday from Laos.

"Of course there's a lot of words about how sorry they (Lao authorities) feel... but when it comes to the concrete steps that have been taken, things are very unclear," Sondergaard said.

Sondergaard, whose political group will join the October EU trip, said the EU should heap diplomatic pressure on Laos over the missing man, who has been hailed for his work on poverty reduction and sustainable development in a country that remains one of Southeast Asia's poorest.

Sombath's wife had been told by local police that they were no longer investigating the case, the lawmaker said, adding a senior foreign ministry official had even questioned whether the man apparently kidnapped in the CCTV footage was Sombath.

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