Suspect in Mekong killings handed over

PUBLISHED : Friday, 11 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 11 May, 2012, 12:00am


An alleged drug lord accused of ordering the deaths of 13 Chinese sailors on the Mekong River last year was extradited from Laos to China yesterday.

Xinhua reported that Naw Kham, who authorities said was in charge of an armed drug-trafficking syndicate, was flown to Beijing on a specially chartered flight from Vientiane, the capital of Laos.

He and seven other suspects were caught by Laotian police at an undisclosed location on April 25, the official news agency reported.

The 13 Chinese sailors were shot dead on two cargo ships on the Mekong in October, and their bodies thrown into the water.

The killings sparked a public outcry, particularly on Chinese web portals and microblogs, with demands for Beijing to take action.

Liu Yuejin, director of the Narcotics Control Bureau at the Chinese Ministry of Public Security, told state broadcaster CCTV that the case was complicated.

'According to an agreement formerly signed by the public security ministries of both China and Laos, Naw Kham was extradited to China, although he is a Burmese national and the murders took place in waters under Thailand's sovereignty,' said Liu, who was also the head of a task force set up by the ministry to look into the case.

Liu said China was the right place to try Naw Kham as all the victims were from China and the killings took place on Chinese vessels.

Liu said the gang allegedly under Naw Kham's control was responsible for as many as 28 attacks on Chinese ships along the Mekong since 2008, in which 16 Chinese had been killed and three others injured.

He added that Naw Kham had proved particularly hard to catch, as he had plenty of loyal followers - including villagers and officials - who would tip him off if they got wind of any police operation targeting him.

With more than 100 members armed with rifles and other guns, the criminal syndicate is thought to have carried out crimes ranging from drug trafficking and kidnapping to murder and looting along the Mekong for years, Xinhua added.

Reports suggest that Naw Kham was once an aide to Khun Sa, a notorious warlord from Myanmar known as the Opium King who thrived in the so-called Golden Triangle - one of the biggest opium-producing regions in the world that spans a million square kilometres across Myanmar, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand.