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French visit of Laotian information minister denounced

Published on Monday 7 July 2003. Updated on Tuesday 8 July 2003.
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Reporters Without Borders today denounced as "shameful and disgraceful" the current visit to France of Laotian information and culture minister Phandouangchit Vongsa while a French and a Belgian journalist have just been sent to prison there for 15 years.

The minister, accompanied by the daughter of Laotian President Khamtai Siphandon, arrived in Paris today to discuss the preservation of Laotian culture heritage and were due to be received by UNESCO and the French senate.

The Support Committee for the journalists - Belgian reporter Thierry Falise and French cameraman Vincent Reynaud - will stage a demonstration outside UNESCO headquarters in Paris at 9 45.a.m.tomorrow since the minister is officially involved in the case and is responsible for punishing journalists who, like them, try to get round the government’s censorship and lies.

The Laotian foreign ministry said today the pair would be freed soon, but gave no date.

Falise, who writes for the French newsmagazine L’Express, and Reynaud were arrested on 4 June in the northeastern province of Xieng Khuang with their interpreter, Rev. Naw Karl Mua, an American of Hmong origin, and four Laotians. They were finishing a documentary about the Hmong minority, some of whom are in rebellion against the communist government. They were accused of "obstructing authority"in the murder of a militiaman killed in a 4 June shooting and sentenced on 30 June to 15 years in prison. Three of the Laotians were jailed for between 12 and 20 years.

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