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Laos Orders Deportation of Five

November 9, 2001

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BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) _ A court in Laos ordered the deportation Friday of five foreign activists, including a European Parliament member, arrested for staging a pro-democracy protest in the communist nation.

The court sentenced them to a conditional two-year jail term, but ruled that they should serve only the two weeks they had already been jailed, said ambassador Klauspeter Schmallenbach, head of the European Commission delegation based in neighboring Thailand.

He said the judge at the Lao People’s Court ordered the five to be deported after paying a small fine. The men were identified as Olivier Dupuis, a Belgian member of the EU assembly, three Italians _ Silvja Manzi, Bruno Mellano and Massimo Lensi _ and Russian national Nikolai Kramov.

``We assume they will be expelled today and then taken into the care of their respective consular representatives of their countries,″ Schmallenbach told The Associated Press by telephone from Vientiane, the capital of Laos.

The activists had faced a maximum prison sentence of five years on charges of interfering in Laos’ internal affairs.

On Thursday, Romano Prodi, the president of the European Union’s executive commission, warned Laos that the case ``risked casting a shadow″ over diplomatic relations and urged the government to release the detainees ``in the spirit of good cooperation.″

The five Europeans, all members of the Italy-based Transnational Radical Party, were arrested Oct. 26 in Vientiane. They had commemorated the second anniversary of a rare pro-democracy student protest in Laos by displaying a banner and handing out leaflets.

Laos’ communist regime, which has ruled since the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, tolerates no political dissent. Human rights groups say at least five Lao nationals involved in the 1999 protest are still being detained without trial.

The EU is a major aid donor to Laos, which relies on foreign assistance for about 80 percent of its public investment. It remains one of Asia’s poorest countries.

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