(Feature) – As Golden Triangle drug boss Naw Kham awaits sentencing in China, his family says his former friends have abandoned him. The once powerful gang leader who made his living off selling illegal drugs and threatening Mekong River boat traffic is alone, abandoned, and no longer surrounded by powerful friends and a well-armed band of renegades.
Convicted in the murder of 13 Chinese sailors, the most widely publicized drug dealer on the Mekong River was wanted for murder, kidnapping, distributing illegal drugs and extortion.
Naw Kham operated relatively freely for nearly a decade, largely by befriending and bribing Burmese and other officials, according to a report on the CCTTnews website.
Following the murders, China was quick to respond to the growing domestic anger at the killings of its citizens in Thailand, and the threat to transportation on the Mekong River, an increasingly important waterway for commerce in the region.
The attack took place in the notorious Golden Triangle region where the Mekong enters Thailand after twisting way along the jungles and borders of Laos and Burma.
China's official Xinhua news agency reported that Naw Kham told police at the time of his arrest that the killing spree on the boats occurred because they had refused to pay him '“protection money.”
On Sept 21, Naw Kham reversed his guilty plea after five co-defendants testified against him.
Naw Kham learned his trade as a captain and an administrator in former Burmese drug lord Khun Sa's Mong Tai Army until he surrendered to the military regime in 1996.
A report by the Shan Herald Agency for News said Naw Kham had been living in the border town of Tachilek since his surrender to the Burma’s military in 1996 and led of a 100-strong People's Militia Force, also known as the Hawngleuk Militia.
A 2006 raid on his home in Tachilek netted 150 assorted weapons, two compressors and countless numbers of methamphetamines, officials said.
He managed for nearly a decade to avoid efforts by the region's law enforcement agencies to capture him because of the '“protection and blessings'' of both villagers and Burma’s military in the Tachilek and Kentung area of Shan State, officials said. He was looked upon as a ''Robin Hood,” for the doling out of money he extorted from Mekong shipping.
A member of Naw Kham's family recently told The Bangkok Post’s Spectrum magazine in a telephone interview that he had close ties with many of the region's authorities, but since his arrest by the Chinese “'no one wants to know him any more. He's now on his own.”
Naw Kham's sister, Nang Nyunt Aye, blamed Naw Kham's closest aide for leading the authorities to where her brother was hiding out in rural Laos. She said that at the time of her brother's arrest he was down to his last 5,000 baht and armed with one pistol.
Naw Kham was born on November 8, 1969. After Naw Kham took over the remaining Khun Sa forces, he also connected himself with local ethnic armed forces. There were more than 100 members in his group, divided into many small, armed groups, each of 15 to 30 members.
A Chinese official said the Naw Kham group posed great hazards to the security along the Mekong River. For now at least, that threat has been removed.