The State Department says local authorities in Laos are obstructing efforts by the U.S. Embassy to locate three Laotian-Americans from the Twin Cities that went missing in January.
The Associated Press reports two Embassy staff members traveled to Savannakhet province in southern Laos to investigate reports that the men may have died in a car accident.
According to an earlier report, three bodies were discovered in a burned van in the province and one of the victims was identified as Souli Kongdaravong, who’s assumed to be one of the missing.
The other two men from Minnesota reported missing are Bounthieng Insixiengmai and Bounma Phannhotha. The three traveled to the country to attend a funeral for Bounthieng’s brother-in-law, Radio Free Asia reports
Laos authorities refused to provide U.S. embassy officials with any information and would not allow them to enter a site which may be related to the case, the news service says.
Concerns have been raised about a surge in political violence and ethnic and religious persecution in Laos following the arrest of an award-winning Laotian civic leader, Sombath Somphone, and the disappearance of the three men.
A public affairs group in Washington D.C. says the three are presumed dead, according to a Center for Public Policy Analysis news release.
"We have received credible reports that the three Americans may have been met with violence and deadly force by the Lao police and military when traveling in the Keng Kok area of Savannakhet Province, Laos,” said Philip Smith, Executive Director of the CPPA.