Page 2 of 2 Did China execute the wrong pirate?
By Peter Lee
and Laotian troops, or a war with the operators of the gigantic Kings Roman Casino/Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone just downstream - founder on the presence of the PMTF.
There are plenty of doubters:
A relative of two of the victims also refuted the official account. "We have worked on ships on the Mekong for 14 years and never once heard that Chinese ships pay protection money to Naw Kham," Mekong shipper He Xilun, who lost both his older brother He Xixing and sister-in-law Chen Guoying in the attack, recently told The Irrawaddy.
"I am saying, that in this trial the truth has not been revealed. I don't know why [the attack] happened," he said. "We only know the tip of the iceberg in this case, I hope the country will continue to look into this and find out the truth. 
If this was a matter of rogue army personnel hijacking a drug
shipment, then one can speculate that Naw Kham's involvement was secondary, in order to 1) provide the necessary veneer of pirate-related illegality, 2) assistance in hauling away and disposing of a sizable pile of amphetamines and/or heroin and/or gold and/or cash on behalf of the renegades, and 3) provide a useful fall guy if the bloody outrage brought down too much heat.
In the event, there was definitely too much heat.
The Chinese crew members, including two female cooks, had not died in some Wild West shootout; they had been handcuffed, gagged, slaughtered with knives and guns, and pitched overboard, outraging Chinese popular opinion. The Chinese government temporarily halted commercial traffic along the Mekong and demanded beefed-up "joint patrols".
The PRC, in the persons of Wen Jiabao and Politburo security heavy Zhou Yongkang, insisted on full and effective cooperation from the region's governments in apprehending Naw Kham, who had an irritating history of targeting Chinese interests, individuals, and security forces, and was universally recognized by his many friends and few genuine local adversaries as the premier pirate in that stretch of the river.
Naw Kham's ties to the Burmese government were apparently a given:
Wanted in Burma, Laos, Thailand and China, Naw Kham, 50, has surprised many observers with his staying quality. The business circle in Shan State East believes the reason is that Burma's junta authorities are on his payroll.
The Shan State Army (SSA) South agrees. "When we were there," said Lt-Col Gawnzeun, Commander of Kengtung Force, "the Burma Army and its militias never allowed us an easy time. We were chased out from every hideout we had setup. But Naw Kham never has to worry about it." He denies the SSA South is also on Naw Kham's payroll. Naw Kham has reportedly said for every 3 baht he made, 1 baht was for the Burma Army, another baht for the SSA and the last baht for himself. 
However, the main outlet for drugs produced in the Shan State is via the Mekong to Thailand, and it appears that Naw Kham would have to have had a modus vivendi with some Thai financiers as well:
"What about the Lao-bans [financiers] from Thailand who are helping us set up refineries and maintain them? Will there be prices on their heads?" a businessman known to be engaged in shady businesses asked. "What about the government officials, both here [in Burma] and Thailand, who see to it that both the raw materials and the drugs reach their destinations safe and sound? Aren't they [the Thai government] going to do anything about them?"
According to sources in Shan State East, most of the financiers are ethnic Chinese from Thailand, Laos, China, Taiwan and Burma, "especially from Thailand". Caffeine, used for manufacturing yaba [tablets containing methamphetamine], and implements also come from Thailand. 
One might speculate that one reason that the PRC decided to forego the intangible psychic benefits of graduating to full implacable superpower status by assassinating Naw Kham via drone - or agree to let him face the Burmese or Thai version of drugland justice - and instead, according to rumors passed on by the Telegraph,  spent 200,000 English pounds (US$300,000) to extract him from his Laotian captors, was so they could get him to China and encourage him to reveal the details of his operation and his protectors and allies and strengthen the PRC's hand along the Mekong. (The Thai government rebuffed Chinese demands after the massacre to escort vessels along the Thai stretch of the Mekong; joint patrols involving Chinese armed police vessels only took place in the northern reaches shared by Laos and Burma).
The Bangkok Post reported:
A regional security officer acknowledged that the arrest of Naw Kham could open a political can of worms.
''The Chinese have said in open source materials that they are pushing for the death penalty for him, but in reality, they will want names of those running with him, they want the bigger players behind him.'' 
It appears that Naw Kham spent his months of incarceration in China bargaining unsuccessfully for his life. At first, invoking the legal approach that might have worked in the Thai courts, he denied culpability and blamed his subordinates for organizing the attack.
Then, according to Chinese media, he confessed:
"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. "We organized and carried out the murders." 
Perhaps he believed that his life would be spared in return for his confession and US$975,000 in compensation for the victims, and with the help of representations from the Myanmar government.
The Myanmar government did negotiate immunity from Chinese prosecution for several of Naw Kham's followers who surrendered in the time-honored fashion; however there seems to have been a general desire to close the books on Naw Kham forever.
Then, perhaps because he came to understand that the Chinese government planned to execute him anyway, Naw Kham withdrew his confession and indicated he was going to implicate the Thai army, presumably hoping that the Thai government would spring to his aid in order to win his silence and save itself the embarrassment.
On September 21, 2012, Deutsche Presse-Agentur reported:
But in a surprise move for China's carefully orchestrated trial system, Nor [sic] Kham denied any involvement in the case when questioned in court yesterday, despite reportedly confessing his role in the killings earlier.
The semi-official China News Service said prosecutors asked him if he had ordered the hijacking of Chinese boats, killing the crew and planting drugs on the vessels.
In court, Nor Kham denied all charges, saying: "The [crime] was carried out by the Thais. I knew about it through television." 
However, if closed-circuit cameras aboard the vessels did record the presence of Royal Thai Army troops during the incident and support Naw Kham's assertion, which this passage from the Chiang Rai Times of December 2, 2011, would seem to confirm:
Pheu Thai Party list MP Sunai Jullapongsathorn, who heads the foreign affairs committee that is investigating the deaths, yesterday said he had obtained evidence suggesting the soldiers were linked to the deaths.
Mr Sunai said he had received a photograph of a soldier holding a machine gun that had been taken on one of the two Chinese cargo ships.
The soldier in the picture was one of the nine soldiers suspected of being involved. 
This is apparently a load of dirty linen that neither the Thai military nor the PRC government are interested in airing in public, and it was not enough to save Naw Kham.
Although the Chinese government and press have repeatedly referenced the involvement of "nine renegade Thai soldiers" in the incident, apparently justice has been adequately served by execution of Naw Kham and his associates.
As for the Thai side, civilian arrest warrants were issued for the nine PMTF personnel involved in the issue, presumably under Chinese pressure, but to date there is no indication of any detention or public trial.
Naw Kham could have answered the question of who masterminded the Mekong massacre, and why. But he won't, at least not for public consumption. He's dead. That is more important than obsessing over whether the final moments of Naw Kham's silencing were televised or not.