China considered killing Naw Kham with drone

China considered using a drone to kill drug warlord Naw Kham in the Myanmar section of the Golden Triangle last year, the Chinese anti-drug agent who chased him for months has revealed.

Within days of his capture, the Golden Triangle war lord was shown confessing on Chinese TV channels.

The drone operation stood down when senior Chinese officials said they wanted Naw Kham taken alive, and put on trial. He was subsequently captured in a joint Chinese-Lao operation, and has been sentenced to death by a Chinese court.

But Liu Yuejin, commander of the Chinese anti-drug force based in Yunnan, said the plan to kill the drug fugitive with a drone aircraft was well under way.

"Our plan was to use an unmanned aircraft to carry 20 kilogrammes of TNT to bomb the area," said Liu in an interview carried in the Beijing newspaper Global Times on Monday. "The plan was rejected, because the order was to catch him alive."

It was the first time any Chinese official has spoken openly of the development of drones by the country. So far, only the US, Britain and Israel have used unmanned aircraft on lethal operations outside their own borders.

Liu's interview with Global Times indicated that for China, it is a question of "when" not "if" its police or armed forces will use unmanned aircraft.

Predator drone (AFP Photo)

Naw Kham, a Shan drug lord with close relations to dealers in China, Laos and Thailand, became China's most wanted fugitive after he was suspected of masterminding the killing of 13 Chinese sailors in a violent drug deal in Chiang Rai province on Oct 5, 2011.

But his reputation went before him. He was known to Chinese anti-drug forces as early as 2008, Liu said. By the time of the Mekong killings, 16 Chinese had been killed and six injured in various drug deals, but Naw Kham was only a phantom.

Liu, 54, the director of the Ministry of Public Security's anti-drug bureau, said the case marked the first time ever that Chinese police were involved in a manhunt for criminals who were all non-Chinese citizens, and all living abroad.

Their own analysts said the hunt for Naw Kham could be as tough as the search for Osama bin Laden.

US President Barack Obama faced a similar decision when intelligence sources finally pinpointed bin Laden. Some US officials advised Mr Obama to use a drone strike to demolish the Bin Laden compound in Pakistan, but Mr Obama chose to confront Bin Laden in order to confirm his death.

Chinese officials, too, rejected the option of bombing Naw Kham. In the end, an international operation run jointly by Laos and China, with the cooperation of Thailand and Myanmar, brought Naw Kham into Liu's hands.

On April 25 of last year, Chinese police received intelligence that Naw Kham intended to cross from Myanmar into China, and set the ambush that resulted in his capture.

Naw Kham and several subordinates were tried and the warlord was sentenced to death. The Yunnan Higher Court denied his appeals on Dec 26, and he has been held on Death Row for nearly two months.

Related search: myanmar, china, drone, laos, thailand, naw kham, warlord, drug lord, golden triangle

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Writer: Alan Dawson
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