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Vientiane refuses to host ASEAN meeting

VIENTIANE (AsiaNews): The 10 member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) rotates the host nation for its annual meetings of the Civil Society Organisations and next year’s gathering was set to be held in Laos.

However, citing security risks and inadequate resources as reasons, Vientiane has decided it will not take its turn.

Maydom Chanthanasinh, the chairperson of the Civil Society Organisation of the Lao Committee, said that a regional steering committee of the ASEAN People’s Forum would decide later which country will host the next meeting.

Last April, Laos put pressure on its own representatives not to raise human rights issues at the this year’s People’s Forum held in Malaysia.

Topics that especially worry Lao officials include land seizure, the impact of dams on the environment and local populations, ethnic minority issues and forced disappearances.

“The Lao government sent fake non-government organisation (NGO) representatives—sort of like state enterprise NGOs—to join the meeting in Malaysia, but we knew that they had come from the Lao government,” Phil Robertson, the Asia director for the New York-based Human Rights Watch, said.

One of things Laos has tried to do is to remove the name of Sombath Somphone, a Laotian civil rights advocate and a 2005 Ramon Magsaysay Award (considered the Asian Nobel Prize) recipient, who disappeared on 15 December 2012 after he was taken into police custody, from the list of unsolved human rights cases.

Member countries seem to understand. The Regional Steering Committee of the ASEAN Civil Society Conference said in a statement of concern issued on September 10 that as a result, “There should be no illusions about the reality of the prevailing fear within Lao society of mentioning issues that are deemed sensitive.”


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