Burmese militia leader behind Mekong murders executed in China
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Burmese militia leader behind Mekong murders executed in China

Naw Kham, the Burmese militia leader sentenced to death in China for piracy and murder, was executed in China’s border province Yunnan on Friday afternoon.

The 43-year-old ethnic Shan was executed by lethal injection along with three other co-defendants in the provincial capital Kunming, after pleading guilty and being sentenced to death on charges of murder, kidnapping, drug smuggling and ship hijacking on Nov. 6 last year. He retracted his guilty plea after the verdict.

The sentence was carried out by lethal injection, the Xinhua news agency reported in a microblog post. Yunnan was the first Chinese province to adopt this form of death penalty in 2003. Their remains will be incinerated and handed over to the Burmese consulate in Kunming.

The execution was preceded by unprecedented television coverage of the trial and the preparations for the executions. National television even showed a live broadcast of the four being escorted from their cells.

Naw Kham had first appealed for a reprieve of the death penalty, but the Supreme People’s Court of Yunnan province upheld the sentence on Dec. 26. The sentence had been confirmed by the national Supreme People’s Court in Beijing in February, China National Television said, citing the Kunming People’s Intermediate Court in charge of handling procedures.

Naw Kham and his militia were accused of masterminding the kidnapping and murder of 13 Chinese sailors on the Mekong River on Oct. 5, 2011, after these allegedly refused to pay protection money. The incident received international media attention.

The trial in Kunming had been given much publicity in China as it was celebrated as a first trial of a “terrorist” who killed Chinese citizens abroad.

A 200-man strong investigative team had been set up to find the former member of the Mong Tai Army in Burma’s lawless Shan State. The first ever known use of a drone strike by China was considered by the investigators, according to recent revelations.

Riparian countries also set up a joint patrol mechanism on the Mekong River, which is still in place under Chinese leadership.

Naw Kham was eventually captured in April last year when he crossed from Burma into Laos. He was then extradited to China, where he faced a Chinese court with an assigned defence lawyer, who has since stated publicly that she had made no attempt to defend her client’s interests.

The nationalistic newspaper Global Times compared Naw Kham’s capture with that of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden’s by US Navy Seals in May 2011, saying it was even more difficult in part because Naw Kham was not executed on the spot, but faced, an albeit questionable, trial.

He didn’t stand much of a chance in a country where the conviction rate for criminal trials stood at 99.9% in 2010 according to figures by China’s Supreme Court. The world’s most populous country does not publish figures on how many death sentences are carried out.

The announcement of his execution on Wednesday has caused a stir among Chinese microbloggers with thousands of posts and comments in the first hours, mostly jubilant of China’s final decision on Naw Kham’s fate.

The execution comes four days ahead of the once in a decade leadership transition in China with the convention of a new session of its rubber-stamp legislature, the National People’s Congress.