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So What About Those Thai Soldiers?
Summary:As the "Mekong River murderers" are put to death in Kunming for their role in the killing of 13 crew aboard two Chinese cargo ships on the Mekong in 2011, we shouldn't forget the nine Thai soldiers who have also been accused of taking part in the attack.

Naw Kham is led towards a police van on Mar 1
Source: Sohu

Mar 1, 2013
By Anchalee Kongrut,a journalist from the Bangkok Post who is on exchange with the Economic Observer

This afternoon, China Central Television's (CCTV) 24-hour news channel broadcast live images of Naw Kham and three other men being led away from their prison cells to be executed by lethal injection.

The "Mekong River murderers" as they are being referred to by the official press in China, were put to death for their role in the killing of 13 crew aboard two Chinese cargo ships on the Mekong in 2011.

After a high-profile court case, that was also broadcast live on TV last September, the four men were sentenced to death after being convicted of intentional homicide, drug trafficking, kidnapping and hijacking a boat.

Each of the accused appealed the verdict but lost their appeal on Dec 26, 2012.

On Feb 22, the Kunming Intermediate Court was informed that the death sentence had been approved and on Feb 24 it informed the four men that they would be executed on Mar 1.

CCTV has been emphasising that the executions provide the relatives of the victims with a sense that justice has finally been served.

Not the End of the Story?

After the killing, the Thai police announced that after speaking to more than 100 witnesses, they were naming nine soldiers from a Thai army unit responsible for security along the Mekong, as suspects in the killings. Some of the witnesses described seeing the soldiers open fire on the boats.

The Thai military responded by saying its troops had found the two boats, already riddled with bullets, on the river bank, with the captain of one slumped dead over his gun. They also reported finding 920,000 methamphetamine pills on board.

In the Naw Kham court case, Chinese prosecutors also alluded to the role played by Thai soldiers in the attack, saying that they worked with Naw Kham's group and planted drugs on the two Chinese cargo boats.

However, there's still no clear sign of what will happen to these soldiers now that Naw Kham has been executed.

There have been calls from the relatives of the victims to bring the Thai soldiers to China to stand trial. China seems to recognize that they don't have the authority to bring the Thai soldiers to trial but they are putting pressure on and providing evidence to Thai authorities. The Chinese are also working with the Thai police to try and arrest another suspect who was involved in the attack. A man called Wo Lan (沃兰) who the Chinese believe acted as a go-between for Naw Kham and some elements of the Thai army. Wo Lan is also said to be the person who planted the drugs on the Chinese boats.

The Royal Thai Army is adamant that any trial involving these soldiers, who are currently being detained but are yet to be charged, must be conducted in Thailand.

For over one and a half years, the army has remained  silent, waiting for a final verdict in the trial in China.

Since the attack, the nine soldiers have faced disciplinary investigations but haven't been formally charged. They have been ordered to remain in their military base but they have not been locked up.

After Naw Kham was arrested in Laos last April, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Thai Army, is said to have urged the soldiers not to flee and to face the charges.

General Prayuth is said to have told an commander in Chiang Rai province "Do not let them go away. It will harm the army's reputation, tell them to fight the charges at trial, don't worry about theirs wives and kids, I will take care of them."

In September, General Prayuth told the media that "People often fire shots when they meet with their rivals or in an act of self-defense. No one wants to kill other people. In this case, we've only heard allegations. Those nine soldiers must defend themselves. If they are guilty, they will face legal consequences and the Army will take care of their families."

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