More trouble for Beijing on its unruly southwestern reaches beyond Yunnan. Pirates seized two Chinese freighters on the upper reaches of the Mekong river in northern Thailand, killing at least 11 of their 13-strong crews and purloining the vessels to run drugs from Myanmar. Some of the sailors appear to have been executed. The attacks took place on October 5. Thai river police retook both boats in a gunfight. Some 900,000 methamphetamine tablets worth more than $3 million were reportedly recovered.
Chinese vessels plying the river as it flows through the Golden Triangle have long been targets for pirates who have sought protection money or used the boats for drugs running. Thai authorities suspect that the ethnic Shan drug trafficker Nor Kham is behind the attacks, including the latest ones. Yunnan provincial authorities have now suspended all Chinese passenger and cargo shipping on the Mekong. Nine out of ten the 130 ships involved in international shipping on the Mekong are Chinese-flagged, according to Chinese authorities responsible for maritime trade on the river.
The latest incident follows a succession of attacks on Chinese-backed hydroelectric dams on the headwaters of the Irrawaddy river in Kachin State in northern Myanmar, culminating in the suspension of work on the Myitsone dam amidst growing anti-Chinese sentiment in the country and a call from Beijing to protect the interest of Chinese firms operating there.
Update: The foreign ministry on Tuesday confirmed 12 deaths with one sailor still missing.
Second Update: Thai authorities say a group of renegade soldiers have admitted responsibility for the killings.