Thirteen Chinese nationals were killed in an attack on the Mekong River between Thailand and Myanmar, a Thai official was quoted as saying, an assault that prompted Beijing to urge stronger protection in the area used by drug traffickers.
The victims were crew members on two cargo ships attacked on October 5 in the "Golden Triangle" of the Mekong, a part of Southeast Asia notorious for its illicit drug trade, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said on its website (www.mfa.gov.cn) late on Sunday.
Earlier reports said 11 or 12 sailors were confirmed as dead. But the Xinhua news agency cited a Thai official who said all 13 crew members of the two boats died.
The bodies were recovered near Chiang Saen, a river port in north Thailand, with hands bound and eyes covered with adhesive tape, the China Daily reported. They had been shot.
China's growing presence in Asia, Africa and other parts of the world has prompted attacks, kidnappings and hijackings, and the issue has become a sensitive one for Chinese officials, who do not want to appear weak in protecting nationals.
Beijing has "asked the countries concerned to take effective measures to strengthen protection of Chinese vessels and crew on the Mekong River", the Foreign Ministry said.
Crew on another boat that saw the attack said eight or so armed men stormed the two ships, the China News Service reported.
The attackers appeared to be smugglers seeking to use the seized ships to traffic drugs, said the report, citing Thai media accounts. The owner of one of the boats attacked said robberies were common on the river, according to the China Daily.
Thai river police recovered the two boats after a gunfight with the men onboard and found five sacks holding a total of about 900,000 pills of methamphetamine, or "speed", an illegal drug, said the China Daily, citing Thai news reports.
The Mekong snakes from China into Southeast Asia, where it forms part of Thailand's border with Myanmar and Laos, and in 2001 the four countries signed an agreement to regularize shipping on the river. The 4,900-km (3,050 mile) river also flows through Cambodia and Vietnam.