Silence over PLA deserters raises questions
The desertion of four soldiers from a PLA base in Jilin province after stealing an automatic rifle with almost 800 bullets has sparked speculation about the reasons for their escape and how they carried it off.
Both the People's Liberation Army and the provincial government remained silent on the incident. It took police a day to track down the four after they absconded from the base in Shulan on Wednesday. Three of the soldiers were shot dead, and the fourth was wounded and captured.
Analysts said that while there been occasional cases of individual PLA soldiers going absent without leave, this incident was a special case as the four had acted as a group.
This, and the fact that they were well-trained and armed, made them potentially very dangerous, said Dr Zeng Zhiping, a retired lieutenant colonel and military law expert at Nanchang Institute of Technology in Jiangxi province.
Police said they had mobilised all available officers to track down the four as soon as they received news of their escape.
Three of the soldiers were shot dead as they traded gunfire with police near Yingkou, the hometown of two of the group in neighbouring Liaoning province.
Mainland internet users complained yesterday that authorities had begun deleting or blocking all information and reports concerning the incident.
Cai Xuewen, a retired air force major colonel who served in the Beijing Military Command, said he believed the four soldiers had planed their escape for some time.
'The army manages its weapons very strictly, with guns and ammunition stored separately,' he said. He believed that two of the soldiers may have had access to the separate armouries at the base.
Jilin police raised the alarm about the incident on Wednesday morning. They said the four soldiers were aged between 18 and 23. Two were gunners, one was an artillery technician and the other was a signaller, indicating they probably belonged to an artillery regiment.
Internet users called on the PLA and Jilin police to inform the public of the reasons for the soldiers' actions, but a Shanghai-based senior colonel, who declined to be named, said it would be impossible for the authorities to reveal the truth to the public because of the serious implications on the incident.
'At the end of each year, when the army decides who should stay, be promoted or leave, farmer soldiers without upper-level connections are always the first to be dismissed even if their performance in the army has been outstanding,' he said.
Previous cases of weapons theft had mainly been individual crimes and few of the culprits had managed to leave their camps.