Mekong murder trial starts

By Ji Peijuan in Bangkok, Ma Qingyan in Kunming, and Yang Jingjie in Beijing Source:Global Times Published: 2012-9-21 1:25:03

Six suspects, including Naw Kham (far right), stand trial on Thursday in a court in Kunming, Southwest China's Yunnan Province. Photo: Xinhua
Six suspects, including Naw Kham (far right), stand trial on Thursday in a court in Kunming, Southwest China's Yunnan Province. Photo: Xinhua

Six suspects from Myanmar, Laos and Thailand, who allegedly took part in an attack last year on the Mekong River that left 13 Chinese sailors dead, faced trial Thursday in a highly watched case heard at a local court in Kunming, capital of Yunnan Province.

During the trial at the Intermediate People's Court of Kunming, the suspects were charged with intentional homicide, drug trafficking, kidnapping and ship hijacking.

According to the indictment, 43-year-old Naw Kham, leader of an armed drug gang from Myanmar, and four other suspects plotted to hijack Chinese ships, murder Chinese crew members, and planted drugs on the crew between late September and early October 2011.

Naw Kham, other core members of the gang and a small number of Thai soldiers attacked, hijacked and finally murdered 13 Chinese sailors on two cargo ships, the Huaping and Yuxing 8, on the Mekong River on October 5, 2011.

The corpses of 13 Chinese sailors were later found floating in the river, blindfolded, hands tied and handcuffed. All of them died of gunshot wounds.

The indictment also accused Naw Kham and other suspects of hijacking three Chinese cargo ships and kidnapping Chinese captains and sailors in April 2011.

Naw Kham, the principal suspect who had confessed to the murders before the trial, denied plotting the attack during the hearing, saying he was not fully informed by his fellow ring members of the attack.

"I did not know about it at that time," he told the court. "They did not tell me. I was only informed afterward."

Naw Kham did admit that he was the gang's ringleader, saying every member called him "the boss."

Liu Yuejin, leader of the Chinese police team set up to investigate the case, said it was predicted that Naw Kham may deny his involvement in the attack, given that the suspects had made contradictory testimonies during the preliminary hearing, reported.

"Even though he denied plotting the attack during the trial, it won't cause any problems, because we have solid evidence," said Liu.

Law experts predicted the suspects will receive the death penalty if they are convicted.

The trial was broadcast live on TV and the Internet, grabbing the public's attention. It will last for three days, with witnesses from Thailand and Laos giving testimony. All the suspects were provided lawyers and interpreters during the hearing.

Chen Tao, a lawyer with the Criminal Law Committee under the Beijing Lawyers Association, told the Global Times that the high-profile trial will promote greater transparency of China's judicial system and clear some of the misunderstandings about the system abroad.

The crime ring was busted earlier this year in a joint operation by police from China, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand after the Chinese sailors' brutal murders triggered an outcry in China last year. Naw Kham was sent to China via a chartered plane in May.

"It is uncommon in China's judicial practice for foreigners who commit crimes against Chinese nationals outside China to be brought to justice before a Chinese court," Dong Lin, a vice president of the Intermediate People's Court of Kunming, told the Xinhua News Agency.

Xinhua quoted Li Ruokun, deputy procurator of the Yunnan Provincial People's Procuratorate, as saying that the trial showed China's resolve to severely punish cross-border crimes and to protect the legitimate rights of its citizens.

Chen said the trial could serve as a reference for similar cases in the future to better protect Chinese citizens' safety and property overseas.

Liu Tao, a law professor with the Chinese People's Public Security University, told the Global Times that China has effective cooperation with friendly nations such as Thailand, Myanmar, Mongolia and Russia in terms of extradition.

However, China lacks such legal cooperation with major Western countries like the US and Canada, noted Liu, voicing his hope that the government pushes for the signing of extradition treaties with those countries.

The killing on the Mekong River prompted China, Myanmar, Thailand and Laos to launch joint patrols on the river last December.

Zhu Dezhong, a senior border control officer with the Yunnan Public Security Department, said five rounds of joint patrols have escorted 89 vessels, rescued 147 people who were in danger and properly dealt with seven emergencies, reported.

The sixth law enforcement mission will kick off on Friday and will last for six days.

Teresita Cruz-del Rosario, a visiting professor with the National University of Singapore (NUS), told the Global Times via e-mail that joint patrols have provided an opportunity for countries in the Greater Mekong Sub-region to tackle common problems.

It shows that no single country in the region can solve problems like drug trafficking and cross-border crimes by itself, and regional cooperation can bring huge success, said Rosario.

Meanwhile, Guo Liangping, a senior researcher with the East Asian Institute of the NUS, told the Global Times by phone that the Mekong River should leave no vacuum for law enforcement to prevent criminal acts. "China and related countries should further discuss how to set up a regular cooperation regime and establish a long-term mechanism to push for cooperation in dealing with non-traditional security threats."

Xinhua contributed to this story

Related report:

Mekong River attack suspects on trial


China, neighbors launch fresh Mekong River patrols

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