Skip to main content

China executes drug gang over Mekong river massacre

By Paul Armstrong, CNN
March 2, 2013 -- Updated 1230 GMT (2030 HKT)
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
December 21, 2014 -- Updated 1746 GMT (0146 HKT)
The tragic killing of two cops could not have happened at a worse time for a city embroiled in a bitter public battle over police-community relations, Errol Louis says.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 1327 GMT (2127 HKT)
North Korea warns the United States that U.S. "citadels" will be attacked, dwarfing the hacking attack on Sony that led to the cancellation of a comedy film's release.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 0251 GMT (1051 HKT)
The gateway to Japan's capital, Tokyo Station, is celebrating its centennial this month -- and it's never looked better.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 1621 GMT (0021 HKT)
More than 1.7 million children in conflict-torn areas of eastern Ukraine face an "extremely serious" situation, Unicef has warned.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1322 GMT (2122 HKT)
Boko Haram's latest abductions may meet a weary global reaction, Nigerian journalist Tolu Ogunlesi says.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1034 GMT (1834 HKT)
Drops, smudges, pools of blood are everywhere -- but in the computer room CNN's Nic Robertson reels from the true horror of the Peshawar school attack.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 0243 GMT (1043 HKT)
The gunman behind the deadly siege in Sydney this week was not on a security watch list, and Australia's Prime Minister wants to know why.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 0948 GMT (1748 HKT)
Bestselling author Marjorie Liu had set her sights on being a lawyer, but realized it wasn't what she wanted to do for the rest of her life.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
CNN's Matthew Chance looks into an HRW report saying Russia has "legalized discrimination against LGBT people."
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 0212 GMT (1012 HKT)
The Sydney siege has brought home some troubling truths to Australians. They are not immune to what are often called "lone-wolf" terror attacks.
Bill Cosby has kept quiet as sexual assault allegations mounted against him, but his wife, Camille, finally spoke out in defense of her husband.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1431 GMT (2231 HKT)
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