China executes 4 foreigners over Mekong murders

Published on NewsOK Modified: March 1, 2013 at 8:05 am •  Published: March 1, 2013
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BEIJING (AP) — China executed four foreigners on Friday for killing 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.

The attack on the sailors on the Mekong highlighted drug smuggling and extortion rackets along the vital waterway and led to a major expansion of Chinese police powers in the region.

Accused ringleader Naw Kham and accomplices Hsang Kham, Yi Lai, and Zha Xiha were found guilty of the killings. The four are of Myanmar, Thai, Laotian, and unknown nationality.

In the unusual live broadcast, state-run CCTV showed the four being led in shackles and handcuffs from their cells at a jail in southwestern Yunnan province's capital of Kunming prior to their execution by lethal injection. Their deaths were announced two hours later by the Yunnan provincial police department.

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 broadcast was a response to widespread Chinese outrage over the killings, as well as an attempt to emphasize the heinousness of the crime and the efficiency of China's police and courts in doling out justice, said Prof. Yu Guoming of Renmin University's School of Mass Media.

"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 River on Oct. 5, 2011, in Myanmar waters infested with gangs that make their living 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 Myanmar, Laos and Thailand meet, and provides a vital trade and transportation route between southwestern China and Southeast Asia.

The ships were recovered downriver later that day by Thai police following a gun battle with gang members, and the bodies of the 13 victims, some bound by the hands before being stabbed and shot, were fished from the river over the following days. Methamphetamine was 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.

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