Laos has handed over to Chinese police a drug lord suspected of masterminding the execution-like killing of 13 Chinese seamen last October on the Mekong River. Naw Kham, seen, right, in transit at Vientiane airport, is a Burmese in his 40s and said to lead a heavily armed drugs trafficking gang. He was arrested on April 25, assumedly in Laos, and has been flown to Beijing.
Along with Myanmar and Thailand, China and Laos have been conducting joint armed police patrols along the often lawless upper reaches of the Mekong since last December. The area is part of the Golden Triangle, long notorious as a stronghold of Shan and Wu drug lords. They have increasingly attacked shipping on the river that refuses to pay protection money, seizing the vessels to carry amphetamines and other drugs downriver to Thailand, the region’s largest market for amphetamines, according to the UNODC. Naw Kham’s gang is believed by Chinese authorities to have been involved in 28 such attacks on Chinese freighters, some allegedly with the compliance of renegade Thai soldiers from an anti-narcotics unit.
Chinese vessels have been particularly subject to such attacks as they dominate shipping on the river, an important trade conduit between Yunnan and Southeast Asia. The four-country patrols, initiated last December after shipping on the Mekong had become too dangerous for most vessels to undertake, are lead by Chinese law-enforcement authorities. They have provided Beijing with an opportunity to play a greater security role along a regionally strategic waterway.