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Southeast Asia, explained

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Lao activist Sombath Somphone (center) at a 2005 award ceremony in the Philippines. (JOEL NITO/AFP/Getty Images)

Sombath Somphone is a 60-year-old activist in a country where even a whiff of dissent can draw harsh reactions from authorities.

That's why, in the wake of his mysterious disappearance, Sombath's family and supporters have wasted little time in pointing fingers at the government.

Sombath isn't a hardcore rabble rouser. He's best known for drawing attention to Laos' deep poverty and starting foundations to help Lao people find self-sustaining employment. 

But his family is demanding answers after Sombath went missing earlier this week. As the Associated Press reports, he was en route to meet his wife for dinner five nights ago and never showed up.

They are hardly encouraged by the emergence of grainy closed-circuit footage that appears to show cops stopping Sombath's car and men escorting him to a separate vehicle that drives off into the night.

The Lao government denies any role in Sombath's disappearance. They suggest he may have been kidnapped over personal or business disputes. That hasn't stopped Human Rights Watch from accusing the government outright and insisting that authorities "immediately reveal his location and return him to his family.”

Whoever absconded with Sombath may have underestimated the scholarly, English-speaking activist's international profile. Pressure on the Lao government to make sense of this mystery is likely to increase by the day.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatches/globalpost-blogs/southeast-asia/did-lao-authorities-kidnap-activist-scholar

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