Drugs gang sentenced for Mekong attack

Sept. 24, 2012 at 6:30 AM
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BEIJING, Sept. 24 (UPI) -- A Myanmar drug baron offered to pay financial compensation after pleading guilty in a Chinese court to killing 13 sailors on the Mekong River in October.

The defendant Naw Kham -- one of six on trial for the killings -- expressed sorrow to the families in the Intermediate People's Court of Kunming, capital of Yunnan province in southwest China.

Naw, members of the gang and a small number of Thai soldiers allegedly attacked, hijacked and killed 13 Chinese sailors Oct. 5 on two cargo ships on the Mekong River.

The bodies of the 13 sailors were found floating in the river, blindfolded and with their hands tied or handcuffed. All of them died of gunshot wounds, a report by the Global Times said.

Naw, 43, denied he plotted the October attack on two ships, Hua Ping and Yu Xing 8, as claimed by his five co-defendants, a report by China's state-run Xinhua news agency said.

The court, which found all six defendants guilty of murder, drug trafficking, kidnapping, is to soon reconvene to choose a date for sentencing, Xinhua reported.

The 3,050-mile Mekong River is the world's 10th longest river and an important commercial and agricultural asset to the countries through which it runs.

However, the Mekong is also a major drugs smuggling route.

The river flows from its source is high in Tibet through China's Yunnan province, briefly marks the border between Myanmar and Laos, then intermittently between Laos and Thailand. It enters Cambodia and finally Vietnam, forming the Mekong Delta and emptying into the South China Sea.

The attack on two Chinese cargo ships that left the 13 sailors dead prompted quick cooperation by politicians, who formed an international patrol force in December. China took the lead role in helping to train and equip the police forces, Xinhua reported.

Countries bordering the Mekong have a history of cooperating on agricultural issues along the river. Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam set up the Mekong River Commission in 1995 to help manage flooding and other problems in the river's massive flood plain, which encompasses most of Laos. China and Myanmar became "dialogue partners" of the MRC in 1996.

But the Mekong flows through the infamous Golden Triangle area of Thailand, Laos and Myanmar. The triangle is known for opium and heroin smuggling but also is increasingly known for an illicit trade in methamphetamines.

Many ships have been hijacked to quickly move millions of methamphetamine pills along the river as part of the transportation system that includes horse and donkey routes through mountains.

The trial of Naw and his co-defendants was an insight in to the amount of money that changes hands in the drug trafficking operations along the river.

Naw said in court he had just less than $1 million and was willing to pay compensation in return for leniency, Xinhua reported.

His co-defendants claimed they had no money to pay compensation.

Nie Tao, a Chinese police officer with the special task force of the case, said police in China and Thailand worked closely on the case and will continue to do so through the international agreement.

Naw was captured in Thailand and transferred to China to stand trial.

Liu Tao, a law professor at the government-run Chinese People's Public Security University in Beijing, told the Global Times that China has good extradition cooperation with nations including Thailand, Myanmar, Mongolia and Russia.

But Liu said China lacks similar cooperation with major Western countries, including the United States and Canada.

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