Looking Back: Mekong River Murders

Reuters has published a special report detailing its investigation into the Mekong River murders of 13 Chinese sailors last October, an investigation which challenges the official account of the attack:

The Thai military says the victims were killed upriver before their ships floated downstream into Thailand. But evidence gleaned from Thai officials and unpublished police and military reports suggests that some, if not all, of the sailors were still alive when their boats crossed into Thailand, and that they were executed and tossed overboard inside Thai territory.

Their assailants remain unknown. Initially, the prime suspect was a heavily armed Mekong pirate who terrorizes shipping in Myanmar. But then the investigation turned to nine members of an elite anti-narcotics taskforce of the Thai military.

New patrols by Chinese gunboats were supposed to restore peace to the region. But a visit to the Golden Triangle also found that attacks on Mekong shipping continue.

Incongruously, just across the river from where the ill-fated ships were found moored, on the Laos side of the triangle, Reuters also discovered a vast casino complex catering to Chinese tourists. Its Chinese owner regards it as a “second homeland”; others worry it could morph into a strategic Chinese outpost.

The second and most recent of the patrols mentioned by the Reuters, conducted by Chinese police in cooperation with counterparts from Laos, Myanmar and Thailand, ended earlier this month. In a weekend report, The Bangkok Post called the October murders “the tip of the iceberg of drug-related crime on the Mekong River”, claiming that the violence has caused sailors to avoid the river:

Chen Ling, a mechanic on board a Chinese cargo ship in Jinghong, which in Thai is known as Chiang Rung, in Yunnan province’s Xishuangbanna prefecture in southwest China, has worked with cargo boats on the Mekong River for almost 30 years.

He also worked as a temporary crewman for the Thai-owned Kasa Longkhamcruise boat on the return trip to Thailand, but only on the condition that he travelled back to Jinghong by car rather than the river to ensure his safety.

He told of a recent incident in which a Chinese cruise boat was attacked by an armed group using speed boats. Passengers and crew, including himself, were robbed, although nobody was hurt.

He said the murder of the 13 Chinese sailors had frightened many sailors on the river.


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