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2005 Ramon Magsaysay awardee detained, US voices concern

Sombath Somphone has been missing since Dec. 16, 2012. FILE PHOTO

InterAksyon.com
The online news portal of TV5

BANGKOK - Sombath Somphone, a prominent development campaigner and 2005 Ramon Magsaysay awardee for community leadership, is being detained by police in Laos, a source close to the activist said Wednesday, prompting the United States to voice its concern for his welfare.

Footage from closed circuit cameras revealed that Sombath, who went missing on Saturday in Vientiane, "was taken away by plainclothes policemen," according to a person familiar with the case who asked not to be named.

It was unclear why he was detained. Laos officials were not immediately available to comment.

The United States on Tuesday said diplomatic and aid agency representatives had been in contact with Sombath's wife, adding that it had "concerns for his well-being and safety."

"We have registered our concern with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Laos and encouraged them to make every effort to locate him and figure out what's happened here," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told journalists.

Sombath won Asia's Nobel Prize equivalent for his work in poverty reduction and sustainable development in a country that remains one of Southeast Asia's poorest nations. 

A member of the activist's Participatory Development Training Center (PADETC) told AFP that Sombath's family was searching for the activist.

"I am still shocked and everybody here is praying about it," the aid worker said.

Laos is a one-party communist state which exerts total control over the media and does not tolerate criticism of its institutions.

Earlier this month Laos expelled the outspoken country director of Swiss charity Helvetas, Anne-Sophie Gindroz, for criticising the government.