Nine Thai soldiers charged with Chinese sailors’ massacre
Nine Thai soldiers have been charged with October’s brutal slaying of 13 Chinese sailors on a section of the Mekong River where the borders Thailand, Laos and Myanmar meet.
The suspects, members of a task force of the Third Army, turned themselves in just hours after the police issued warrants for their arrest, according to reports
Thai Army Chief Prayuth Chan-ocha said the nine men maintain their innocence and have denied killing the Chinese sailors.
Chan-ocha said he ordered the men to report to police since they were named suspects so they have a “chance to show their sincerity” and it should not be misinterpreted as an admission of guilt.
He called for justice for his subordinates.
“Ninety percent of my subordinates are good guys. Please don’t prejudge them for committing crimes. It’s not easy to kill people even if their supervisors ask them to do so,” Chan-ocha was quoted as saying by Xinhua, China’s official news agency.
Thai Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung, who is in charge of security, said investigators had gathered enough evidence in connection with the gruesome slaughter of the Chinese sailors, some of whom were found blindfolded and handcuffed with their throats slit.
He said there was solid evidence to suggest the two Chinese cargo ships were attacked by weapons fired from the Thai side.
The nine suspects, including a major and a lieutenant from the Third Army Region, which guards Thailand’s northern border, allegedly acted on the order of some local tycoons, Thai Police Chief Priewpan Damapong said.
Damapong insisted that the Thai government and the army were not behind the killings. The suspects have been charged on counts of murder and tampering of evidence, Damapong said.
Two cargo ships Huaping and Yu Xing 8 were attacked on Oct. 5 on the Mekong River near the Golden Triangle area, notorious for being a major transit point for drug smuggling.
The police recovered 920,000 methamphetamine pills valued at 100 million baht [$3.2 million] from the two hijacked vessels following the discovery of the bodies of the Chinese sailors floating in the river. The Chinese government on Oct. 13 sent patrol ships to escort 164 sailors aboard 28 ships stranded in Chiang Saen for more than 10 days back to China.
The captain of one of the Chinese patrol ships said he and his crew had not slept in 48 hours to remain on watch during their trip back.
Shortly after the killings, a customs officer estimated the indefinite halt in Thai-Chinese bilateral trade in Chiang Saen will result in losses of about $66 million a month.
Following a meeting of officials from China, Laos, Burma and Thailand in Beijing on Oct. 31, China decided to station up to 1,000 armed officers to patrol the Mekong River as it gears up for the resumption of navigation by its ships.
China has bought five ships which will be refitted for the unprecedented operation, Fang Yougo, general secretary of the Lancang shipowners’ association, was quoted by China’s Yunnan Information Daily. Lancang is China’s name for the stretch of the Mekong River in its territory.
The joint operation by the four countries, he said, will cover only certain sections of the Mekong and Chinese officers will be stationed at key locations.
“They will provide protection to all legal cargoes travelling along the river with the law enforcement authorities of Laos, Thailand and Myanmar,” he said.
Early in the investigation, a Thai police official called the leader of a private militia, which has been active on the narrow stretch of the Mekong between Burma and Laos for the past five years, the “prime suspect in both the incidents.”