Laotian arrested after 2 Chinese nationals shot in Bokeo economic zone

The incident took place in a Chinese-controlled area of Laos that’s earned a reputation for criminal activity.
By RFA Lao
2023.06.30
Laotian arrested after 2 Chinese nationals shot in Bokeo economic zone A casino operated by the Kings Romans Group is seen in the Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone on the banks of the Mekong River in Laos near the border between Laos, Myanmar and Thailand, March 2, 2016.
Jorge Silva/Reuters

Authorities inside a Chinese-controlled special economic zone have arrested a Lao national believed to have shot and injured two Chinese men in the notorious crime area, area residents said, citing social media reports about the crime.

Authorities in the Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone, which sits along the Mekong River in northwestern Laos’ Bokeo province, have not identified the shooter involved in the June 27 incident.

Established in 2007, the gambling and tourism hub caters to Chinese citizens and has been described as a de-facto Chinese colony. It has become a haven for criminal activities, including prostitution, online scamming, money laundering, drug trafficking, and human and wildlife trafficking by organized criminal networks.

A Lao resident told Radio Free Asia that locals learned about the shooting from reports on social media, though the perpetrator’s motive remains unknown.

“There are a lot of guns in this area,” he said. “They sell them to each other like they are selling cake. Safety protection and controls in the zone are based on who has money and authority in the zone.”

Residents who live in the vicinity of the SEZ say they are concerned about their safety because other shootings have occurred there, but Lao authorities do not have the right to enter the zone to conduct investigations.

Lao authorities in Bokeo province said they are aware of the shooting but cannot enter the Chinese-controlled area, which operates largely beyond the reach of Lao laws, creating friction with local residents.

It is up to the Chinese to investigate the incident, they said.

Meanwhile, the condition of the two injured Chinese men is unknown.

A health official from Bokeo’s Ton Pheung district, where the SEZ is located, told RFA that those wounded in shootings there are treated by Chinese doctors at the zone’s hospital, whereas the district’s small medical clinic treats only Lao workers.

An official from the Lao Ministry of Planning and Investment said control of the SEZ is a complicated issue, so Lao authorities cannot get involved in investigating crimes that occur there.

“Lao authorities should have the right to get involved, but in reality the Chinese have more rights than us,” said the official, who declined to be named so he could speak freely.

It is unknown whether Chinese authorities in the SEZ will investigate the shooting themselves or transfer it to Lao police, he said.

The Lao government let the Chinese-owned company, Kings Romans Group, set up the SEZ in the Lao section of the Golden Triangle, hoping to generate economic development in the relatively poor country. But the area’s development into a crime hub has caused problems, including an increase in gun violence.

Kings Romans Group has denied accusations of its involvement in criminal activities in the zone.

Translated by Sidney Khotpanya for RFA Lao. Edited by Roseanne Gerin and Matt Reed.

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