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Mekong drug lord faces murder trial in China

By Xu Lingui, Li Huaiyan, Li Meng (Xinhua)

07:59, September 20, 2012

KUNMING, Sept. 19 (Xinhua) -- In the criminal underworld, Naw Kham was often referred to as the "Godfather" for running one of the most prominent armed drug rings in a major drug-producing region in Southeast Asia.

But his rein over the section of the Mekong River near the China-Myanmar-Laos borders was brought to an end earlier this year by a joint police operation after the brutal murders of 13 Chinese sailors triggered outcry in China last October.

Though once considered "blessed" and "untouchable" by the local Burmese people, Naw Kham was arrested and his drug ring busted in Laos in April. Naw Kham and five of his top aides were all brought to China by August and charged with murder, drug trafficking, kidnapping and ship hi-jacking.

Naw Kham will stand trial before a local court in the southwestern city of Kunming on Thursday. He faces the death penalty if convicted.

Liu Yuejin, leader of the Chinese police team set up to investigate the case, said China has jurisdiction for the trial because the murders occurred on China-registered ships and the victims were Chinese nationals.

"Both Myanmar and Thailand wanted the case. Naw Kham is Burmese and the crime scene is in Thailand. But after negotiations, they allowed the trial to proceed in China," Liu said.

Three Lao police officers and ten Thai police officers and civilians will appear to testify on Thursday, court officials said.

Police said Naw Kham already confessed to the murders during interrogations.

"I was terribly wrong for having done it. I am sorry for the Chinese sailors and hope the Chinese can grant me leniency," Naw Kham told reporters in an arranged interview in police custody ahead of the trial.

"I apologize to the victims' families," Naw Kham said.

Naw Kham was born an ethnic Shan minority in northern Myanmar in 1969. Formerly an aide to the notorious Shan rebel commander Khun Sa, Naw Kham re-organized Khun Sa's rebel forces after the war lord and drug kingpin surrendered to the Myanmar government in 1996.

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