Skip to main content

China executes drug gang over Mekong river massacre

By Paul Armstrong, CNN
updated 7:30 AM EST, Sat March 2, 2013
The Mekong river gang was arrested after a joint police operation between China, Thailand, Laos and Myanmar.
The Mekong river gang was arrested after a joint police operation between China, Thailand, Laos and Myanmar.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • One of the four was a Burmese drug smuggler
  • The men were convicted in the murder of at least 12 Chinese sailors in Thailand
  • Thai authorities found the corpses and about 1 million amphetamines in 2011

Hong Kong (CNN) -- Four men convicted of murdering 13 Chinese sailors on the Mekong River in the northern Thai province of Chiang Rai in 2011 were executed in China Friday, state media reported.

Chinese authorities identified one of the men as a Myanmar drug lord named Naw Kham, with the other three -- believed to be members of his gang -- named as Hsang Kham from Thailand, Yi Lai, referred to as "stateless," and Zha Xika, a Laotian, the state-run Xinhua new agency reported.

Xinhua referred to Kham's nickname as "the Godfather," saying that his was "the largest armed drug trafficking gang on the Mekong River."

The four men were executed by lethal injection in the city of Kunming in southwest China's Yunnan Province, the Kunming Intermediate People's Court said, Xinhua said. Their appeal was rejected last month.

Chinese prosecutors defended the decision, saying the case had built up sufficient evidence, and that the actions of the four men were held to be extremely cruel. Prosecutor Zhang Weiting from the People's Procuratorate of Yunnan Province told Xinhua that "intentional murder is the heaviest crime in China and the murderers deserve their sentence."

Appeal in Mekong killings rejected

Thai authorities discovered the gruesome murder scene in October 2011 after boarding two cargo ships that had come under gunfire. They found nearly 1 million amphetamines and 12 dead bodies, some with their hands bound. One sailor was missing.

The gang was arrested in a joint operation by police from China, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand, according to Xinhua. The agency added that the gang colluded with Thai soldiers in the attack on the cargo ships, the Hua Ping and Yu Xing 8.

Kham was also accused of directing several of his subordinates in the kidnapping of Chinese sailors and hijacking of cargo ships in exchange for a ransom in early April 2011, the court said, according to Chinese state media.

The Golden Triangle area is a place of evil. it turns good people bad.
Naw Kham

In an interview from his prison cell with state broadcaster CCTV Friday, Kham appeared to express regret about his past. "The Golden Triangle area is a place of evil," he said, referring to one of Southeast Asia's main drug-producing areas that overlaps several countries in the region. "It turns good people bad.

"People come here doing business, but they couldn't resist the temptation of drugs, then they become drug dealers too."

After the execution, the court was to hand over their remains, wills and personal belongings to relatives or relevant consulates, Xinhua said.

Two additional gang members received death sentences with reprieves and will serve eight years in jail.

The death penalty remains an iconic form of punishment in China, where executions are used as a public warning. Sentencing is broadcast on state television.

China carries out the most executions by far in the world each year, according to Amnesty International -- thought to number in the thousands -- though it does not provide an exact figure. The official number of executions is a state secret.

However, the group admits Beijing has taken steps in recent years to reduce the number of capital crimes.

In 2011, Amnesty said China abolished the death sentences for 13 non-violent offenses and in cases where the accused was over the age of 75 -- though it warned people were rarely executed in these cases, with the implementation of the death penalty often extended for other capital offenses.

CNN's CY Xu in Beijing contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 10:43 AM EDT, Tue October 28, 2014
A captured fighter tells CNN's Ivan Watson: "They gave us drugs... that made you go to battle."
updated 9:31 AM EDT, Wed October 29, 2014
A terminally ill woman who plans to take her own life checks off the last item.
updated 7:40 PM EDT, Thu October 30, 2014
In a plot straight out of Hollywood, federal agents gain access to a suspected Triad boss' Vegas hotel room by pretending to fix the Internet connection.
updated 12:34 AM EDT, Fri October 31, 2014
Was it only black and Latino men who harassed a woman in NYC? The filmmaker has found himself in a race controversy.
updated 5:52 PM EDT, Fri October 31, 2014
The history of human rights often overlooks the struggles of gay people. This must change.
updated 9:15 PM EDT, Wed October 29, 2014
Armed with Kalashnikovs and chanting for the dead comrades, women are among ISIS' most feared enemies. They are fighting for their families -- and now they are getting U.S. help.
updated 8:46 AM EDT, Tue October 28, 2014
Lere Mgayiya put his best foot forward and set up a shoe-shine firm after his career plans fell flat.
updated 1:28 AM EDT, Thu October 30, 2014
One Chinese drone manufacturer wants to take away the warmongering stigma of "drones."
updated 11:12 PM EDT, Wed October 29, 2014
Sketcher Luis Simoes is traveling the world -- slowly. And he's packed his sketchbook.
updated 4:43 PM EDT, Tue October 28, 2014
European states help North Korea's brutal treatment of its people by allowing luxury goods like cars and cognacs to evade sanctions, two experts say.
updated 11:45 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Chinese leaders want less odd architecture built in the country.
updated 7:04 AM EDT, Fri October 31, 2014
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT