China Executes 4 Foreigners over Mekong Murders

Naw Kham leaves the detention center for execution in Kunming, Yunnan Province on March 1, 2013. (Photo: Reuters)

BEIJING — China executed four foreigners Friday for the killing of 13 Chinese sailors in an attack on the Mekong River, following a live nationwide broadcast showing them being led to their deaths that harkened back to the mass public execution rallies of past years.

State broadcaster CCTV showed the four being led from their cells at a jail in southwestern Yunnan province’s capital of Kunming at about 2 pm prior to their execution by lethal injection. In shackles and handcuffs, they were trussed with a rope binding their arms behind their backs before being placed into court vans and driven to execution chambers.

Their deaths were announced two hours later by the Yunnan provincial police department.

Accused ringleader Naw Kham and accomplices Hsang Kham, Yi Lai, and Zha Xiha were found guilty of the murder of 13 Chinese sailors in an October 2011, attack on the Mekong River. The four are of Burmese, Thai, Laotian, and unknown nationality. Two others were given suspended death sentences for their parts in the killings.

Friday’s live broadcast was unusual because China has mostly abandoned the once common practice of parading condemned criminals before crowds in stadiums and through city streets on the way to execution grounds on the edge of cities.

The decision to broadcast was a response to widespread outrage among the Chinese public over the killings, as well as an attempt to emphasize both the heinousness of the crime and the efficiency of China’s police and courts in doling out justice to the four, said professor Yu Guoming of the School of Mass Media at Beijing’s Renmin University.

“The brutality of Naw Kham in the killing really got ordinary Chinese people riled up. It’s no wonder that it has attracted such huge attention from the public,” Yu said.

The gang was accused of ambushing two flat-bottomed Chinese cargo ships on the upper reaches of the Mekong on Oct. 5, 2011, in Burmese waters infested with gangs that make their livings from protection rackets and the production and smuggling of heroin, methamphetamine and other drugs. The Mekong flows south from Yunnan through the infamous Golden Triangle region, where the borders of Burma, Laos and Thailand meet, and provides a vital trade and transportation route between southwestern China and Southeast Asia.

The ships were recovered downriver later the same day by Thai police following a gun battle with gang members, and the bodies of the 13 dead, some of whom were bound by the hands before being stabbed and shot, were fished from the river over the following days. Methamphetamines were found on the boats, leading to speculation they had been hijacked as part of a drug smuggling plot.

However, gang members later testified the killings were in retaliation for the ships refusing to pay protection money and allowing themselves to be used by Thai and Laotian soldiers in attacks on warlord bases. They said the drugs were placed on board to make it look like there had been a struggle between smugglers.

China’s Public Security Ministry made the case a top priority and Naw was arrested in Laos on April 25 last year and turned over to China the following month along with his accomplices. Because the killings took place on board Chinese flagged vessels, Beijing, whose massive economy and powerful military gives it considerable sway over its smaller southern neighbors, ruled the trials should take place in China.

Months after the killings, China established a multinational river patrol mechanism headquartered in Yunnan, which Beijing claims has been effective in clamping down on such bloody incidents.

“The case set a precedent that China would vigorously pursue criminals who commit crimes against its nationals. That’s led to an expansion of Chinese police powers into the neighboring region and a big boost in Chinese influence,” said Jin Canrong, associate dean of Renmin University’s School of International Studies.

Associated Press researcher Yu Bing contributed to this report.

7 Responses to China Executes 4 Foreigners over Mekong Murders

  1. They were shown on State Television before the execution!

    • why the hell is too many chinese in mandalay and shan state; seems like most of them got here in t he last two decades cuz none of them speak Bama sakar or any local burmese dialects? what kind of permits they have for living in Burma: burmese citizenships ? this government is so messed up! it is one thing to get helped from chinese government but totally another to start importing chinese in millions who don’t give a damn about our country or culture. I foresee a major foreign chinese vs local clashes that result in thousands being killed. for that damned chinese invaders, china is a much better country. just stay where you truly belong instead of trying to take over the whole asia like what you did to tibets some 60 years ago cuz it don’t work in modern times.

      • The public display of this case is a warning from Peking to Burma that China will go out of its way and exercise extra-territorial jurisdiction (which is against international law actually) to protect Chinese citizens (business people, workers, even Chinese soldiers and police on river patrols) and Chinese “investments” (mines, gas/oil pipelines, railways, sea-ports, dams, land, etc. etc.) in Burma. Letting in so many Chinese and Chinese money into Burma was a huge mistake that Than Shwe and his cronies made. Burma is paying a heavy price for that now.

    • Like a commercial showcasing the ruthless nature of the ruling government appealing to the equally ruthless and cruel nature of the fitting “human” that populate that country China.

      Then again they do learn it from the dear Yankees, the moral, intellectual, technological, leaders of the “Civilized. Free World” showing Saddam execution in full sequence- necrophiliacs’ heaven!.

      And people wonder why the world is becoming more and more violent!

      Free Societies in Gated Communities? Self- imprisonment!! !

      The wisdom of the advanced human is astounding. Guess what, thing can just get worse.

      One thing for sure. Killings beget killings. With interest.

  2. Friday’s live broadcast was unusual because it was justice without borders and the perpetrators were not CHINESE; having said this – it is now open season. China has no voice, if a CHINESE commits a crime which involves a life in another country; it will be lethal…no repatriation.

  3. Even though Naw Khan’s case was mis-handled by Thein Sein’s government and not fairly judged by chinese government, Thein Sein’s government should learn from this scenario what they must do if CHINESE kills Burmese in Burma.

  4. George Than Setkyar Heine

    AND THE SAME IS TRUE IN BURMA as well, lest the Chinese forget!

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