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Attacker of Chinese ships held in Laos

By Zha Minjie (Shanghai Daily)

13:25, April 28, 2012

Infamous Myanmar drug trafficker Naw Kham, whose men are said to have repeatedly attacked Chinese sailors and ships on the Mekong River, has been caught in Laos, just days after being placed on Thailand's most-wanted list.

Thailand's Channel 3 TV station said yesterday that Laotian authorities had told their Thai counterparts of the arrest on Thursday. The report said Thai officials had traveled to Laos to confirm his identity.

Naw Kham leads a private militia that for the past five years has terrorized crews of vessels sailing a narrow stretch of the Mekong between Laos and Myanmar.

China, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand began carrying out joint security operations to pursue "criminal organizations" operating on the Mekong River after 13 Chinese sailors were killed there last October.

Chinese security officials said criminal activities on the river had increased in recent years, with extortion, robberies and shootings becoming more frequent.

Naw Kham was believed to be the mastermind behind the killings last October and a reward of 2 million baht (US$65,000) was offered for his capture.

Last Friday, Thai Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung said the narcotics board was offering 12 million baht in reward money for the capture of 25 drug dealers, including three from Myanmar.

The 2 million baht on Naw Kham's head was double that offered for any of the others.

Naw Kham's organization, armed and about 400 strong, is a major force in the "Golden Triangle," an opium-producing area which overlaps the mountains of Myanmar, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand.

It first hit the headlines in February 2008 when a Chinese patrol boat was attacked and three Chinese police officers injured.

In April last year, the group released 13 Chinese it had kidnapped after an US$8.3 million ransom was paid.

The river, a major trade route, is a dangerous waterway where drug dealing and weapons smuggling are rampant.

Shipping services were halted after the October killings.

Water transport on the river resumed after the first joint patrol last December.

Many ship owners and businessmen said they were reluctant to go back to the area after the October attack.

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