CHINA has executed four foreigners for the killing of 13 Chinese sailors on the Mekong River in an attack that highlighted drug smuggling and extortion rackets along the vital waterway and led to a major expansion of Chinese police powers in the region.

State broadcaster CCTV showed the four being led in shackles and handcuffs from their cells at a jail in southwestern Yunnan province’s capital of Kunming prior to their execution by lethal injection. Their deaths were announced two hours later by the Yunnan provincial police department.

Accused ringleader Naw Kham and accomplices Hsang Kham, Yi Lai, and Zha Xiha were found guilty of the murder of the 13 Chinese sailors. The four are of Myanmar (Burma), Thai, Laotian, and unknown nationality. Two others were given a suspended death sentence and eight years in prison for involvement in the killings.

The gang was accused of ambushing two flat-bottomed Chinese cargo ships on the upper reaches of the Mekong River on October 5, 2011, in Myanmar waters infested with gangs that make their living from protection rackets and the production and smuggling of heroin, methamphetamine and other drugs. The Mekong flows south from Yunnan through the infamous Golden Triangle region, where the borders of Myanmar, Laos and Thailand meet, and provides a vital trade and transportation route between southwestern China and Southeast Asia.

The ships were recovered downriver later that day by Thai police following a gun battle with gang members, and the bodies of the 13 victims, some bound by the hands before being stabbed and shot, were fished from the river over the following days. Methamphetamine was found on the boats, leading to speculation they had been hijacked as part of a drug smuggling plot.

However, gang members later testified the killings were in retaliation for the ships refusing to pay protection money and allowing themselves to be used by Thai and Laotian soldiers in attacks on warlord bases. They said the drugs were placed on board to make it look like there had been a struggle between smugglers.

Because the killings took place on board Chinese-flagged vessels, Beijing, whose massive economy and powerful military give it considerable sway over its smaller southern neighbours, ruled the trials should take place in China.

The four were sentenced to death in November in a two-day trial, and the judgment was upheld by China’s Supreme People’s Court in Beijing following an automatic appeal in accordance with Chinese law.
source : http://www.news.com.au