Two top Laotian dissidents arrive in France

17th December 2004, Comments 0 comments

HANOI, Dec 17 (AFP) - Human rights groups have welcomed the arrival in France of Laos' two most prominent political dissidents but have called for the release of five other activists still detained by the communist regime.

HANOI, Dec 17 (AFP) - Human rights groups have welcomed the arrival in France of Laos' two most prominent political dissidents but have called for the release of five other activists still detained by the communist regime.

Ex-deputy economy minister Latsami Khamphoui and former justice ministry official Pheng Sakchittaphong arrived in France Thursday.

The men, both 63, were jailed 14 years ago for criticising the government. They are in France for medical treatment for undisclosed illnesses.

The Paris-based Lao Movement for Human Rights, which has criticised the use of the cases for propaganda purposes, welcomed Friday their release but called for five other dissidents who were arrested after participating in a pro-democracy march in Vientiane in 1999 to be also freed.

The group asked the international community to "continue to place pressure on... Laos until obtaining the freedom of all political prisoners... among them the leaders of the October 26 Movement of 1999."

The diaspora group also asked foreign governments to "urge the totalitarian regime of Laos to engage in reforms to promote freedom, democracy and national reconciliation."

A Laos government spokesman denied that five more dissidents were in jail, saying "even a child would laugh" at such a suggestion.

The news of Thongsouk and Latsami's arrival in France was also welcomed by Amnesty International, which had been uncertain the men would be released at the end of their terms.

"We are absolutely delighted by the news," Amnesty International's Daniel Alberman told AFP. "We are aware that for various reasons, some detainees are held without charges in Laos and others are not released after the end of their terms."

Latsami and Pheng, who arrived in the French capital with their wives, will be given medical treatment, the French foreign ministry announced.

The former senior government officials were arrested in October 1990 with Thongsouk Saisangkhi, a deputy minister of sciences and technology, who died in jail in 1998.

The three were leading members of a group called the "Social Democratic Club" made up of 40 intellectuals who were critical of Laos' system of one-party rule.

They had also circulated a letter to the regime criticising its political and economic systems. They were accused of "treason" and of trying to overthrow the government.

Vientiane says the two men were released on October 4. France however considers December 3 as the duo's release date. In between, the men have been hospitalised at Sam Neua, a small and isolated city in northeast Laos.

The Laotian government apparently preferred the two to be outside Vientiane during the country's largest ever international event, the annual summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations of which it is a member. The summit took place on November 29 and 30.

Laos, one of the world's few surviving communist regimes, is routinely criticized for violations of human rights.

Amnesty's Alberman said while changes were taking place within Laos, the pace was slow. "Laos remains one of the very few countries in the world which has no tolerance at all for political dissent," he said.

The two dissidents did not make any comment. Sources said they might decide to return to Laos after their medical treatment.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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