Three Burmese soldiers were killed during a clash with an armed group of criminals on the Mekong River during an international joint river patrol, according to security sources.
The sources said a joint patrol force of Burmese and Lao soldiers clashed with a group of criminals believed to be led by Nor Kham, leader of a border drug gang, yesterday at Ban Don Sam Pu about 20km north of the Golden Triangle, near the spot where 13 Chinese sailors were killed on the river on October 5.
The clash took place as China sent armed police on 11 boats to escort nine private cargo ships sailing from Guanlei port in Yunnan to Chiang Saen port in Chiang Rai, with Burmese and Lao soldiers deployed to provide security along the Mekong River.
China has deployed more than 300 armed police to patrol the Mekong in boats in collaboration with Burma, Thailand and Laos after the death of the sailors. Thai authorities will join river patrols from Guanlei port in China to the Golden Triangle and they will be solely responsible for patrols from the triangle to Chiang Saen port.
The 13 sailors were killed on a section of the river south of China’s border, raising concerns in Beijing for the safety of crew and cargo sailing south through an area rife with drug warfare and smuggling.
Thai police have detained nine soldiers suspected of killing the Chinese sailors.
The nine officers, attached to the Third Army Region’s Pha Muang Task Force, were charged with murder and tampering with evidence.
They denied the charges and maintained a drug-trafficking gang from Shan State in Burma led by Nor Kham was responsible.
One initial account says the nine army officers intercepted the Hua Ping and Yu Xing 8 ships as they entered the stretch of the Mekong and found 920,000 methamphetamine pills. When the bodies of the sailors turned up in the water, the soldiers became murder suspects.
Pol Maj Gen Sitthiporn Srichanthap, deputy chief of the Police Region 5, yesterday said the case against the nine soldiers had now been submitted to the Office of the Attorney general for consideration.
A team of prosecutors and police have been set up to look into the case and they have made good progress, Pol Maj Gen Sitthiporn said. The investigators would still need to question some witnesses in foreign countries, he said.