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October 09, 2011

13 Chinese Sailors Killed in River Boat Attack

China has suspended shipping on the Mekong river, days after 13 sailors were killed on two cargo boats in an apparent hijacking by drug smugglers.  

The official Xinhua news agency said the shipping ban extends to passenger vessels as well as cargo ships.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said the two boats came under attack Wednesday in the Golden triangle of the Mekong - a region notorious for illicit drug trade that includes Burma, Thailand and Laos. The attackers killed their captives and fled the scene on the hijacked boats. The China Daily newspaper said the victims' bodies were recovered near the Thai river port of Chiang Saen with hands bound and eyes covered with adhesive tape.

The Bangkok Post newspaper said Thai forces later intercepted the hijacked vessels and recaptured the boats, which had 900,000 methamphetamine tablets on board. It said one of the hijackers was killed in a shootout with Thai forces while the others escaped.

The Thai army told the Post that a gang run by Nor Kham, a Shan drug trafficker, is thought to be behind the killings. It quotes Thai police as saying traffickers routinely demand protection money from the crews of hijacked vessels and kill crew members who refuse to cooperate. The bandits then use the boats to smuggle contraband.

The 4,900 kilometer Mekong originates in China and flows southward through Laos, Burma, Thailand and Cambodia, before emptying into the South China Sea in southern Vietnam.

Some information for this report was provided by Reuters.