Alleged kingpin of Mekong River massacre changes his tune

Myanmese drug gang leader says Thai soldiers were responsible for killing 13 sailors, not the six foreigners who are on trial in Kunming

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 24 September, 2012, 10:23am

The accused Myanmese ringleader of a Mekong River hijacking that resulted in the murder of 13 Chinese sailors disputed the charges yesterday as six foreign nationals stood trial in Kunming, Yunnan.

Naw Kham and five others from Laos, Myanmar and Thailand are facing charges of intentional homicide, drug trafficking, kidnapping and hijacking stemming from the October 5 attack on two Chinese cargo ships.

On the first of what is expected to be a three-day trial at the Intermediate People's Court of Kunming, prosecutors said Naw Kham, 43, planned and executed the attack. He also placed drugs on the hijacked boats to mislead investigators.

The victims - several blind-folded and shot - were found on the cargo ships by local authorities after a gun battle with the hijackers near Chiang Rai in northern Thailand.

Prosecutors accuse Naw Kham of running one of the most notorious gangs in the infamous Golden Triangle drug-trafficking area. One witness described him as the gang's "godfather", Xinhua said.

But Naw Kham has blamed nine Thai soldiers who are expected to face trial in Thailand over allegations of their involvement.

"The case was done by the Thailanders. After it happened, I only learnt about it on TV," he was quoted by the China News Services as saying. "I didn't go with them. They made the decision and went without me."

Naw Kham's testimony differed from the account he gave during a China Central Television interview earlier this week. In that video, Naw Kham admitted that he planned and executed the murder as revenge.

"On September 22, 2009, these two Chinese ships carried some Myanmese and Lao soldiers to attack our line," he said through a translator. "So I want to make the Chinese ships pay back, to teach them a lesson.

"The thing should not have happened, but it has happened. I made a big mistake to do such a thing. I'm sorry for the victims, the 13 Chinese boatmen."

The People's Daily quoted Liu Yuejin, chief of the Ministry of Public Security's Narcotics Control Bureau, as saying the police had expected Naw Kham, who has frequently backtracked on his confession during interrogation, to change his story.

But Liu said authorities had gathered enough evidence, including DNA, autopsy reports and witness testimony, to secure a conviction.

Dong Lin, vice-president of the court, admitted to Xinhua that they were unaccustomed to handling cases involving foreigners accused of committing crimes beyond China's borders.

In the months following the incident, the number of Chinese cargo ships on the busy waterway dropped more than 40 per cent.