Archive for Laos
Nine young North Korean defectors on their way to freedom in South Korea were deported from Laos on Tuesday under guard of North Korean agents with diplomatic passports. As late as Wednesday, a full day after they had been taken back to the North, the South Korean Foreign Ministry mumbled something about trying to locate them and maybe prevent them from being sent back to the repressive country, where they face internment or execution. Now the ministry claims it did everything possible to help them. A South Korean missionary who was detained in Laos while escorting the young refugees said he informed the South Korean embassy in Vientiane on May 20 that two men with North Korean accents had interrogated them in detention. He says embassy officials told him not to worry and said Lao authorities were just trying to determine whether the defectors were really trying to escape from the North. Instead of trying to help, it seems the South Korean diplomats ended up shooing the defectors along to their doom. The young refugees, who are between 15 and 23, spent 18 days in Laos without meeting a single South Korean embassy official. Diplomats are responsible for defending South Korea’s national interests just as soldiers protect its physical borders. The way they bungled the Lao incident brings to mind a soldier snoozing at his frontline post.
The Embassy of Laos is not in anyway involved in the smuggling of three high end sport cars, a Ferrari Spider and two Lamborghini Aventadors. According to sources at the Bureau of Customs, this is not the first time a foreign embassy has been victimized by syndicates who bring in contraband. In this case, the embassy was caught by surprise and allowed the authorities to proceed with their investigation without issuing an statement when the news broke out two months ago. Juan Secon, a former member of the Customs Consultative Committee, said embassies should guard against the operations of unscrupulous individuals or groups even as the bureau intensifies its campaign to thwart the illegal entry of cars and other dutiable goods.
The Bureau of Customs (BOC) has asked the embassy of Laos to justify its duty-free importation of three high-end sports cars—a Ferrari Spider and two Lamborghini Aventadors. Customs Commissioner Rufino Biazon told the Inquirer the BOC at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Naia) had declared the three exotic cars as “abandoned” since their consignees had not processed their papers since the vehicles arrived in November last year, or more than the 30-day limit to claim them. “The official and full report is being prepared by district collector (Carlos) So but offhand, unofficially, it’s confirmed that the Lao embassy is acknowledging the shipments,” said Biazon in an interview. An official of the Lao Embassy said it had submitted its reply to BOC and declined to discuss the matter. A source in the BOC said the Spider and Aventadors were supposed to be delivered to different consignees at the same address: 34 Lapu-Lapu St., Magallanes Village, Makati City, care of the Embassy of Laos. Since they arrived on Nov. 28, nobody has come forward to claim the cars after BOC agents questioned why diplomats would buy fast cars as their service vehicles. Biazon said the BOC would auction off the Ferrari and Lamborghinis if the Lao embassy fails to justify the use of its duty-free perk to bring in the pricey vehicles.
Pirate Bay co-founder Fredrik Neij has won his appeal against the Embassy of Sweden in Bangkok after it revoked his passport earlier this year. The authorities could not give a proper reason for the revocation to the Appeals Court, meaning that Neij is now free to travel from Laos where he currently resides. February this year the main verdict against Fredrik Neij and his co-defendants in the Pirate Bay trial was made final. However, Neij has not given up completely. Together with former site spokesman Peter Sunde he filed appeals with the European Court of Human Rights in June. While Neij awaits the Court’s decision he is residing in Asia with his family, where he and his wife are expecting their third child. But a few months ago Neij suffered another setback when the Embassy of Sweden in Bangkok revoked his passport, a decision the Pirate Bay co-founder decided to appeal in August. The 34-year-old argued that the nature of his crime is not serious enough to warrant his passport being taken away and that by doing so the Swedish authorities will subject his family to unreasonable consequences. Among other things, Neij and his Thai wife want to be able to travel to Thailand for the birth for medical reasons. Neij will now await the decision of the European Court of Human Rights, in a country of his own choosing.
In what gay activists have praised as a positive move, the United States Embassy in Laos held the country’s first-ever lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Pride event in the country. According to the US Embassy’s website, “the US Embassy, Laos held its first-ever Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Pride event in Vientiane. “The event, called “Proud to be Us!”, was produced by a group of young Lao LGBT activists and featured music, dance, skits, and dramas exploring issues faced by LGBT people in Laos today, such as discrimination, gender roles, and sexual health,” the statement added. The embassy said that more than 100 people were present for the event, which was held on the sports field on the embassy’s premises.
The Laotian government allowed UN agencies and top diplomats brief access to a village housing thousands of ethnic Hmong who were expelled from Thailand in December. In an attempt to quell international concerns about the group, officials led a tightly-controlled trip via helicopter to remote Phonkham village, a newly-built community in central Bolikhamsay province. Bangkok sparked a global outcry in December when it used troops to forcibly repatriate about 4,500 Hmong from camps in northern Thailand to its communist neighbour. The group included 158 people recognised as refugees by the United Nations. Hmong are a Southeast Asian ethnic group who fear persecution for fighting alongside US forces in the Vietnam War in the 1960s and 1970s. Thailand and Laos both said the Hmong were illegal economic immigrants. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) was never given access to the vast majority of the Hmong in Thai camps to assess if any were in fact refugees, despite concerns that a significant number would need international protection. But a UNHCR official was invited to take part in Friday’s short visit, along with representatives of the World Bank, the UN Development Programme, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime and the International Organization for Migration (IOM). The visitors included about 20 Western diplomats including the US ambassador to Laos, European Union delegates, and foreign reporters. They were welcomed to the village by Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Phongsavath Boupha. But for most of the two-hour stay, the delegation was confined to an unfinished village hall, mainly to be briefed about planned infrastructure developments, with no time allocated for one-on-one discussions with the Hmong. Diplomats have said there were no reports of mistreatment.