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CHINA: Thirteen sailors killed by drug traffickers on Mekong River

October 10, 2011 |  3:52 am

MekongRiver REPORTING FROM BEIJING -– Thirteen Chinese sailors who were aboard two boats captured by drug traffickers on the Mekong River near Thailand have been confirmed dead, the New China News Agency reported Monday, citing Thai investigators.

Investigators found three bodies on Friday, nine more on Saturday and the final one on Monday. Grisly photographs circulated on Chinese websites on Monday. Most of the victims were blindfolded, had their hands bound and had been killed by gunshot wounds. One Chinese sailor is still missing.

The 13 victims are believed to be crew members of two Chinese cargo ships that were hijacked last week. The boats were recaptured after a gun battle with Thai security forces. Over 900,000 methamphetamine pills were found on the two boats.

"We urge the countries concerned to quickly establish the truth about the incident, capture the criminals, and protect the safety of the Mekong River,'' Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Liu Weimin told reporters in Beijing on Monday.

Thai army officials said they believe the ships' crews refused to pay protection money to a local drug lord and were summarily slain.

China's Foreign Ministry released a statement late Sunday asking the "related countries to adopt measures to strengthen the protection of Chinese ships and crews in the Mekong River."

China is increasingly expanding its economic reach into developing countries in Asia and Africa and is under mounting pressure to ensure the safety of its citizens overseas.

In February, China evacuated 30,000 workers from Libya. The evacuees' stories subsequently became the focus of a state media blitz to highlight China’s commitment to protecting people overseas.

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-- Benjamin Haas

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