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Originally published Monday, November 5, 2012 at 11:23 PM

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China sentences 4 Mekong smugglers to death

A Chinese court sentenced four members of a Myanmar drug gang to death Tuesday for kidnapping and killing 13 Chinese sailors last year on the Mekong River, state media said.

The Associated Press

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BEIJING —

A Chinese court sentenced four members of a Myanmar drug gang to death Tuesday for kidnapping and killing 13 Chinese sailors last year on the Mekong River, state media said.

The grisly murders on a section of Mekong flowing through the Golden Triangle region, which is notorious for drug traffickers and extortion gangs, prompted China, Myanmar, Laos and Thailand to begin joint patrols there in December.

Earlier reports said the Chinese victims were bound and blindfolded with adhesive tape before being shot. Their bodies were found near Chiang Rai in northern Thailand.

Gang leader Naw Kham was extradited from Laos at the request of Chinese authorities in May. He and three members of his gang were sentenced to death by the People's Intermediate Court in Kunming, the capital of Yunnan province, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

Xinhua said another gang member was given a suspended death sentence and one was sentenced to eight years in prison.

All six defendants were charged with intentional homicide, drug trafficking, kidnapping and ship hijacking. All told the court they would appeal, Xinhua reported.

Nine Thai soldiers who are accused of taking part in the killings previously surrendered but have not been tried or extradited. They remain in Thai military custody and are suspected of murder and concealing evidence, Deputy National Police Chief Police Gen. Pansiri Prapawat said Tuesday.

Sailors shipping Chinese produce and manufactured goods down the Mekong have long complained of armed gangs that loot their boats or demand cash. Little action was taken to protect them until the Oct. 5, 2011, attack near the Thai-Myanmar border, which sparked Chinese demands for a thorough investigation.

The Bangkok Post reported a few days after the killings that local Thai authorities seized both the hijacked Chinese boats after a gun battle with the gang and found cargo that included amphetamine pills worth 100 million baht ($3.22 million), garlic, apples and fuel.

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Associated Press writer Vee Intarakratug in Bangkok contributed to this report.

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