RM awardee still missing after 6 days

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08:04 AM December 22nd, 2012

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December 22nd, 2012 08:04 AM

In this Aug. 31, 2005 file photo, Sombath Somphone of Laos, the winner of Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership in 2005, poses with the bust of the late Philippine president prior to receiving his award in ceremony at the Cultural Center of the Philippines in Manila. The respected social activist has gone missing in Laos, and a colleague involved in the search for him said that he saw evidence that police had taken him into custody. A statement issued Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2012 on behalf of 61 Thai nongovernmental organizations said Sombath disappeared Saturday afternoon in the Lao capital, Vientiane, where friends last saw him getting into his car to drive home from the development agency he founded. The Ramon Magsaysay Award is one of Asia’s top civil honors. AP/Bullit Marquez, File

MANILA, Philippines—There is no word about Ramon Magsaysay laureate Sombath Somphone six days after he was reported missing in Laos.

Sombath, a social activist, was last seen being whisked away in a vehicle by policemen in the Laotian capital Vientianne.

He was reportedly on his way home when police stopped him and took him away.

Sombath, 60, was reportedly taken to a police station in Vientianne. He has not been seen again.

Until recently, Sombath was director of the Participatory Development Training Centre (PADETC) in Vientianne. He founded the center in 1996 to promote education and leadership skills among young Laotians.

Sombath is also involved in a small enterprise selling village handicrafts.

Sombath’s colleagues describe him as a kind and gentle community worker who deeply loves his country and his people.

Sixty-one Thai nongovernmental organizations have written to senior officials in Laos and to foreign embassies there asking for efforts to be exerted to find Sombath and determine the cause of his disappearance.

More than 30 Ramon Magsaysay awardees, together with trustees, officers and staff of the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation, have urged the Laotian government to investigate the disappearance of Sombath.

They asked that Sombath’s family be informed as soon as possible after he is found.

Sombath Somphone received the RM award for community leadership in 2005. He was recognized for his “hopeful efforts to promote sustainable development in Laos by training and motivating its young people to become a generation of leaders.”

The RM board of trustees said that much of the work of Sombath’s organization is carried out by teams of young volunteers and trainees who exemplify his commitment to participatory learning.

“In any given week, these volunteers-cum-trainees reach as many as 9,000 people. As they do so, Sombath makes certain that they are also learning to think, plan, act, and lead,” the board said.

On Dec. 18, The Associated Press reported that Laos has an authoritarian government with little tolerance for dissent, but Sombath’s friends and associates said that his work is not directly political.

The AP quoted Suntaree Hathi Sengging of the Thai NGO Coordinating Committee on Development as saying: “He (Sombath) deals with business and education. His work isn’t the type that would have created enemies.”

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