13 Chinese sailors killed near Golden Triangle

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The Independent Online

China suspended shipping through Southeast Asia's Golden Triangle today after attacks by suspected drug traffickers on two Chinese cargo ships left 13 people dead on the Mekong River.

The bodies of 12 crew members were found near Chiang Rai in northern Thailand on Friday and Saturday after the ships were hijacked on Wednesday, the China Daily newspaper reported. Another body was found in the same area early today, China's official Xinhua News Agency said.

Most of the victims had been bound and blindfolded with adhesive tape and shot, the China Daily reported. The crew included two female cooks, it said.

The Golden Triangle region, where the borders of Burma, Laos and Thailand meet, is notorious for the production and trafficking of heroin and other illicit drugs.

The Bangkok Post reported today that local authorities seized both boats after a gun battle with the hijackers and found cargo that included amphetamine pills worth 100 million baht (£20.4m), garlic, apples and fuel.

The Post cited Thai army officials as saying a gang run by suspected ethnic Shan drug trafficker Nor Kham was believed to be behind the attacks. It said the gang demands protection money from ships it hijacks on the Mekong and kills crew members who refuse to cooperate.

The boats are used to smuggle drugs from Burma to Thailand, the Post said.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin told a daily news conference today that China had suspended shipping from Yunnan down the Mekong and had sent a team to help investigate the killings. He also said China had appealed to Thailand to boost security on the river.

He put the number of dead at 11 crew, with another two missing.

In April, three Chinese boats and 34 crew members were taken hostage by pirates along the Mekong in Myanmar but were safely rescued within days.