China Sentences Four to Death in Mekong Murder

CDT previously reported on the murder of Chinese sailors on the Mekong River and on the following investigation. Chinese state media reports the principal suspect and three others in the attack have been sentenced to death, from Xinhua:

A Chinese court on Tuesday sentenced Naw Kham, a drug lord from Myanmar, and three of his subordinates to death for the murder of 13 Chinese sailors on the Mekong River last year.

The six suspects, comprised of five people from Myanmar, Thailand and Laos and one stateless suspect, faced charges of intentional homicide, drug trafficking, kidnapping and hijacking or a combination of those criminal offenses. The suspects were ordered by the court to pay compensations totalling six million yuan (about 960,000 U.S. dollars).

All six defendants said they will appeal Tuesday’s verdict.

Naw Kham and his gang members were found to have masterminded and colluded with Thai soldiers in an attack on two Chinese cargo ships, the Hua Ping and Yu Xing 8, on Oct. 5, 2011 on the Mekong River, the court said in an investigative report.

While four of the suspects were given the death sentence, another suspect was given a suspended death sentence, and one suspect was sentenced to eight years in prison, from AP:

Nine Thai soldiers who are accused of taking part in the killings previously surrendered but have not been tried or extradited. They remain in Thai military custody and are suspected of murder and concealing evidence, Deputy National Police Chief Police Gen. Pansiri Prapawat said Tuesday.

Sailors shipping Chinese produce and manufactured goods down the Mekong have long complained of armed gangs that loot their boats or demand cash. Little action was taken to protect them until the Oct. 5, 2011, attack near the Thai-Myanmar border, which sparked Chinese demands for a thorough investigation.

The Bangkok Post reported a few days after the killings that local Thai authorities seized both the hijacked Chinese boats after a gun battle with the gang and found cargo that included amphetamine pills worth 100 million baht ($3.22 million), garlic, apples and fuel.

The murder occurred in the ‘Golden Triangle’, which runs through China, Myanmar, Thailand, and Laos, and it is also known for its illegal drug trade. While the principal suspect, Naw Kham, has been identified as Burmese, the nationality of the other suspects is unknown, from AFP:

The reading of the verdicts was shown live on state television.

The trial finished in September after the gang of six men pleaded guilty to intentional homicide, drug trafficking, kidnapping and hijacking, state news agency Xinhua said in September.

The gang, based in Myanmar’s northern Shan state, was led by Myanmar national Naw Kham, who was one of the men sentenced to death.

At least one of the remaining five gang members is Thai, but the nationalities of the other four is unclear.