Mekong Murder Has Hallmarks of Naw Kham
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Mekong Murder Has Hallmarks of Naw Kham

By WAI MOE Thursday, October 13, 2011

Thai military officers seize a Chinese-flagged ship allegedly carrying nearly one million speed pills during a patrol along the Mekong river near Chiang Rai’s Chiang Saen district. (Photo: Bangkok Post)

Beijing has suspended Chinese ships from the Golden Triangle area of the Mekong River following the brutal murder of at least 12 Chinese crewmen on Oct. 5.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry has demanded that regional partners Burma, Thailand and Laos take immediate action to find the perpetrators.

Attention has quickly focused on the only suspect in the case, Naw Kham, the notorious leader of a private militia which has for five years terrorized the crews of vessels, almost invariably Chinese cargo ships, sailing on the Mekong in the narrow stretch between Laos and Burma.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said on Tuesday that 12 Chinese crewmen were killed and one remains missing after two cargo ships, the Hua Ping and Yu Xing 8, were attacked and hijacked, according to the state-run Xinhua News Agency.

The unmanned ships were discovered floating downriver near the port of Chiang Saen by Thai police on the morning of Oct. 5. Police discovered on board the body of one man who had been shot. Later that day, the bodies of 11 others were recovered from the river.

Thai media reported that all the men had their hands tied behind their backs and that two were blindfolded. Some had been shot or had their throats slit. All the crewmen have now been identified.

Quoting Thai police, the media in Thailand reported that 920,000 amphetamine pills were uncovered on the two Chinese cargo vessels.

On Wednesday, Xinhua reported that 164 Chinese crewmen from 28 cargo ships were currently docked and stranded in Chiang Saen, and a further 116 vessels ships were anchored at various points on the Mekong River due to the suspension of all Chinese shipping.

The following day, the Chinese press agency reported that all Chinese vessels will return to China on Friday.

"The brutal killing of Chinese sailors on the Mekong River reminds us of the urgency of stepping up security measures in an area plagued by drug trafficking and cross-border crime,” said the China People's Daily.

The incident was reminiscent of a kidnapping in April when 34 crew members on three Chinese boats were taken hostage by pirates on the Laos-Burma stretch of the Mekong.

The 34 were safely rescued by Thai police within days, though they could not subsequently identify the pirates because they wore masks and balaclavas.

Few doubt however that both incidents involved Naw Kham and his 60 to 100 gunmen known as the “Hawngleuk militia” who are thought to be based in eastern Shan State and who frequently patrol the Mekong on speedboats. Members of the group allegedly wear plain clothes and carry automatic weapons.

A 51-year-old ethnic Shan, Naw Kham is wanted by all the Mekong subregion authorities, accused of drug trafficking, robbery, kidnapping and murder.

However, many observers say they doubt that law enforcement agencies in the region are tackling the crimes seriously as Naw Kham and his gang are still active and appear to act with impunity.

“A couple of other armed groups, including the United Wa State Army, have previously attempted to control trade on the Mekong River around the Golden Triangle area. But none has succeeded except Naw Kham,” said Khunsai Jaiyen, the editor of The Shan Herald Agency for News (SHAN), which is a well-known authority in covering ethnic affairs and drug issues in Shan State.

Naw Kham was previously an administrative officer in late warlord Khun Sa's Mong Tai Army, a militia renowned for opium production in Shan State. 

After Khun Sa’s surrender to the Burmese authorities in 1996, Naw Kham broke from the Mong Tai and established himself independently as a militia leader among ethnic Shan and Lahu groups in eastern Shan State.

Naw Kham’s Hawngleuk militia is widely alleged to have worked in cooperation with many high-ranking Burmese officials over the years, including the regional commanders of the Triangle Regional Military Command in Kengtung.

Among the former heads of Triangle Regional Military Command are: President Thein Sein; the current commander-in-chief of Burma’s armed forces, Gen Min Aung Hlaing; and Home Affairs Minister Lt-Gen Ko Ko.

But his amity with the military officers waned, and in January 2006 Burmese security forces seized massive amounts of methamphetamine pills, drug-production equipment and 150 weapons when they raided Naw Kham's compound in the Burmese border town of Tachilek, reportedly with the help of Thai and Chinese intelligence.

Since then, Naw Kham has operated underground.

“He was able to revive his militia in 2007, recruiting several Shan-Lahu mercenaries from eastern Shan State,” Khunsai Jaiyen said.

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Jim Pollard Wrote:
While the story about Naw Kham is interesting and worth writing, I'm not convinced it's true. Some journalists who went to Chiang Saen a week ago said there was a huge shootout down by the river after these boats came in - not upriver as the Army claimed. Some Thai papers allegedly reported this, but it was not reported by the English language papers. Why would Thai officials want to cover this up? Was the Thai anti-drug taskforce involved in some of these deaths? I think the real truth of what occurred has yet to be revealed.

Farang nak khaow Wrote:
The story of Naw Kham is interesting and worth writing. However, there are other elements of this sordid little drama that are not included here. I think if your journalist goes to Chiang Saen he will find out that there was a huge gunfight between the Thai anti-drug taskforce and people on at least one of these vessels. There were many witnesses who fled as the bullets flew into buildings adjacent to the river. Some Thai papers allegedly reported this - which appears to clash with the Thai Army's claim that these killings occurred 25km upriver. A colleague who visited the town to look into this incident came away feeling that basic details were changed - and was this done with the intent of hiding Thai involvement in some of these people's deaths. I'd be interested in seeing what Chinese investigators uncover about this incident cos I'm not 100pc convinced this official explanation is true.

M.A.I. Wrote:
The red communist Chinese government never values the life and safety of their citizen,more than 600,000 Chinese in Cambodia routinely assassinated by Khmer Rouge Pol Pot in 1970's, did Zhou Enlai's wife Yingchao Deng listen to the rescue plea from Chinese living in Cambodia? on the contrary she immediately agreed arm selling contracts to POL POT killing her own race, that's the true nature of communism. Myanmar militia were raised up by evil red China communists like their evil baby, so evil red parents you should care that if you were get murdered by your evil minded kids...because you're more evil than your evil kids....evil China you deserves all kinds of punishments

dr.saw thein shwe ellerich Wrote:
"The Chinese Government values the life and safety of every Chinese citizen" we all Lao, Burma, Cambodia, Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia must learn from Chinese to value the life and safety of our Citizen. Why are these 920000 Amphetamine pills are found in their Chinese Ships. Why do this Chinese Government Support such smugglers and proud to claim as if they are Chinese heroes.It is time to defend our borders. These Chinese come to us when they have nothing to eat. These Chinese come to us again to exploit.

Dr.saw thein shwe ellerich Wrote:
Chinese government values the life and safety of every Chinese citizen.(Why not government of Burma,(Myanmar) Lao ,Thailand,Cambodia and Vietnam Value the life of our Citizens.)Let the Smugglers Kill the Smugglers.Learn from Chinese to value the life of our own CITIZENS)

a villager Wrote:
'The Chinese government values the life and safety of every Chinese citizen....' but not the life and safety of ethnic Kachin refugees who are fleeing from the brutality of Burmese army.

Kyaw Wrote:
No doubt that Naw Kham paid to the Burmese regional command to operate free in Mekong river. The Regional command are hurry to fetch incomes during their short assignment and used to work with the local warlords and militia.

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