|Naw Kham (1st R, front), principal suspect accused in the Mekong River murder case, and five accomplices hear their verdicts at court in Kunming, capital of southwest China's Yunnan Province, Nov. 6, 2012. Naw Kham was sentenced to death on Nov. 6. The 13 Chinese sailors were murdered after two cargo ships, the Hua Ping and Yu Xing 8, were hijacked on Oct. 5, 2011 on the Mekong River, an important waterway in Southeast Asia. (Xinhua/Wang Shen)|
KUNMING, Nov. 6 (Xinhua) -- A Chinese court on Tuesday sentenced Naw Kham, a drug lord from Myanmar, and three of his subordinates to death for the murder of 13 Chinese sailors on the Mekong River last year.
Another two members of Naw Kham's gang, identified by their Chinese names Zha Bo and Zha Tuobo, received a death sentence with reprieve and eight years in prison, respectively, according to a verdict handed down by the Intermediate People's Court of Kunming in southwest China's Yunnan province. The two Zhas are from Myanmar.
The six suspects, comprised of five people from Myanmar, Thailand and Laos and one stateless suspect, faced charges of intentional homicide, drug trafficking, kidnapping and hijacking or a combination of those criminal offenses. The suspects were ordered by the court to pay compensations totalling six million yuan (about 960,000 U.S. dollars).
All six defendants said they will appeal Tuesday's verdict.
Naw Kham and his gang members were found to have masterminded and colluded with Thai soldiers in an attack on two Chinese cargo ships, the Hua Ping and Yu Xing 8, on Oct. 5, 2011 on the Mekong River, the court said in an investigative report.
Under Naw Kham's instructions, several of his subordinates were also found to have kidnapped Chinese sailors and hijacked cargo ships in exchange for ransom in early April 2011, according to the report.
The crime ring was busted earlier this year in a joint operation conducted by police from China, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand after the brutal murders triggered an outcry in China last year.
About 300 people were present at Tuesday's first instance, including relatives and friends of the victims, diplomats from Laos and Thailand and the press. The defendants wore headphones through which language services were offered.
Yang Xiaoping, a member of the judge panel of the trial, told reporters at a press conference after the sentence that compensation was decided with consideration of facts, legal compensation standards and the defendants' capability.
Plaintiffs of the incidental civil action against the defendants previously claimed a total of 20 million yuan in compensation.
Nie Tao, a Chinese police officer of the local public security agency in Yunnan, said police are still working with authorities of relevant countries to bring other suspects implicated in the case to justice.
Chinese police will also provide necessary assistance, including evidence of Thai soldier renegades, to Thailand for its investigation and prosecutions, Nie said.
Also at the press conference, Naw Kham's lawyer Lin Li said because the the drug lord is not a Chinese national he was informed in detail about China's judicial system, such as the first trial and appellant trial procedures.
"I believe the death penalty for Naw Kham is proper, or my brother and sister-in-law will not rest in peace," He Xilun, younger brother of victim He Xixing, told Xinhua after the court sentence.
He Xixing's wife was also killed in the Oct. 5 murder.
Nicknamed "Godfather," Naw Kham was the boss of the largest illegal armed drug trafficking gang in the "Golden Triangle" region along the Mekong River.
His gang members were armed with weapons, including pistols, rifles, submachine guns, bazookas and antitank grenades.
Investigations revealed that the Naw Kham gang was responsible for at least 28 cases of criminal attacks targeting Chinese ships and citizens, resulting in 16 deaths and three injuries.
According to Li Ruokun, deputy procurator-general of the Yunnan Provincial People's Procuratorate, the prosecutors prepared over 6,000 pages of evidence material, necessary documents of 400,000 words and 30 editions of prosecution plans for the trial.
The trial of Naw Kham and other suspects shows that China is capable of and responsible for protecting its citizens, and that any criminal violation against its people will be subject to punishment in accordance with the law, said Li Ling, one of the prosecutors.