Frustrated by a five-month international manhunt that produced no results, Chinese investigators contemplated using an unmanned drone to kill a fugitive drug dealer in Myanmar. The revelation comes from Liu Yuejin (刘跃进), China's top anti-drug officer, in an interview with news outlet Global Times.
Police from China, Myanmar, Laos and Thailand cooperated on the Naw investigation but were hampered by the overlapping laws of each country. In the Global Times interview Liu says he and his counterparts had to respect each of the four countries' laws and customs, which led to at least four separate instances of Naw evading capture.
It was after one of these escapes that Liu began to consider the use of a drone. His task force was fairly certain of Naw's whereabouts in Myanmar but were not confident they could reach him. "One plan was to use an unmanned aircraft to carry 20 kilograms of TNT to bomb the area, but the plan was rejected, because the order was to catch him alive," Liu said in his interview.
Unmanned vehicles were first publicly displayed by the Chinese government at a Guangdong air show in November 2012 — seven months after Liu's Myanmar strike proposal. His comments appear to indicate China now has confidence in its nascent aerial drone and remote guidance programs.
Control of drones is accomplished via sophisticated satellite guidance systems and China has been developing a program of this type, named Beidou (北斗), for the past several years. The navigation system is already in use by the military and is expected to be implemented for limited civilian purposes by 2015.
In his interview, Liu did not address the international complications a cross-border drone strike in Myanmar might have created. That point, for now, is moot as Naw Kham was apprehended in Laos in April 2012 and then extradited to China.
Five months later, Naw and several of his associates were tried in Kunming on charges of murder, drug trafficking, kidnapping and the hijacking of ships. Naw was found guilty on all counts and sentenced to death. Execution of that sentence is currently suspended pending a series of appeals.
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