A suspected drug lord accused of being the mastermind behind the murder of 13 Chinese sailors on the Mekong River last year has been extradited to China from Laos where he was believed to have been arrested last month, according to Thai and Chinese officials.
Nor Kham, a Burmese ethnic Shan, was flown on a chartered plane on Thursday, the officials said.
"[Today], as I speak to to you, the Lao government handed Nor Kham over to China," Thailand's Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung told local television.
Liu Yuejin, director of the Narcotics Control Bureau of the Chinese Ministry of Public Security, said China, Laos, Burma, and Thailand worked together to arrest Nor Kham and his gang's "core members" as the countries moved to maintain safety along the Mekong River, Chinese state news agency Xinhua reported.
Nor Kham was captured along with seven other men in the Lao area of the Golden Triangle, a region notorious for drug smuggling that also includes parts of Burma and Thailand, near Tonpheung district in Bokeo province. He was taken in Ban Mom, a village that lies across the Mekong from Chiang Rai in Thailand.
Liu said a joint police investigation by the four countries discovered that Nor Kham, along with his gang's core members and a "small number" of Thai soldiers, planned and conducted the murder of 13 Chinese sailors on two cargo ships on Oct. 5 last year.
Nor Kham had risen to the top of China’s most-wanted criminal list for his alleged role in the murder of the Chinese nationals. The crew members were found with their hands tied behind their backs, blindfolded with adhesive tape, and shot or with their throats slit, according to Chinese and Thai media.
Both boats were seized by Thai authorities after a gun battle with the hijackers and among the cargo found were nearly a million amphetamine tablets—a powerful stimulant—worth 100 million baht (U.S. $3.22 million).
Nine Thai soldiers have also been charged with murdering the sailors and concealing their corpses.
The grisly murders prompted the creation of a joint patrol operation on the Southeast Asian artery.
Nor Kham's gang had more than 100 members armed with assault rifles, bazookas, and machine guns and were believed to have engaged in drug trafficking, kidnapping, murder, looting, and other crimes along the Mekong River for many years, Xinhua said.
Thai deputy prime minister Chalerm Yubamrung said Nor Kham, who was also on Thailand's wanted list, had fled to Laos, prompting Bangkok to inform Beijing about the escape.
"The Chinese officials and I kept in touch and the Chinese authorities contacted the Lao government. The Lao government arrested Nor Kham," he said.
Nor Kham is alleged to be a former aide of late Burmese drug kingpin Khun Sa and ex-leader of the defunct Mong Tai Army rebel group.
According to the Shan Herald Agency for News, he surrendered to the Burmese army in 1996 and was made a Burma Army-run militia chief in Tachilek afterward.
But in January 2006, Nor Kham became a fugitive when his home was raided and Burmese authorities seized “countless numbers” of methamphetamine tablets.
Since then, he allegedly had taken control of cross-border shipping, both legal and illegal, by collecting protection money from merchant ships on the Mekong and had operated with impunity in the Golden Triangle region.
Reported by RFA's Lao service. Translated by Max Avary. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.