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European Activists Detained in Laos - 2001-10-29

Officials from Laos say five European activists detained for staging a pro-democracy rally in the capital, Ventiane, are to be prosecuted under Laotian law. The detainees include a member of the European Parliament.

Laotian diplomats in Thailand Monday accused the five activists of stirring unrest and of interfering in the country's internal affairs.

If the detainees are convicted they could face up to five years in prison.

The five are members of a European nongovernmental organization called the Transnational Radical Party. They were arrested Friday as they waved banners and handed out pro-democracy leaflets in front of the presidential palace in the Laotian capital.

One of the detainees is Olivier Dupuis, a member of the European Parliament; three are Italians, and one is a Russian. The detainees said they were marking a pro-democracy demonstration that Laotian teachers and students held in Ventiane two years ago. Laotian security forces broke up that demonstration, and international human rights organizations say five of the organizers of the 1999 demonstration have been detained since then.

The European detainees reportedly refused to give their names to Laotian authorities to protest the detention of the Laotion democracy activists.

Laotian diplomats in Thailand say privately the five Europeans would likely be tried and then deported. But the diplomats would not say when a trial might take place.

Laos, a landlocked nation of about five million people, has been a one-party, Marxist state since 1975, when communists won a civil war following the end of the war in neighboring Vietnam.