The grisly killings of two Chinese nationals, whose bodies were found stuffed into bags and floating in rivers within two weeks of each other, have put residents of Laos on edge.
No connection between the two killings has been confirmed, but authorities say both may have been involved in business deals gone sour, sources in Laos told Radio Free Asia.
On Sept. 15, villagers from Vientiane Province’s Phon Hong district found a body floating near a dam that was identified as belonging to Chinese businessman Yang Youhai, 37, who had operated an iron bar manufacturer. The body was found in a plastic bag with his hands and feet bound, a police official said.
“They are still investigating and the cause is unknown,” a police official from Vientiane’s Naxaythong district told RFA’s Lao Service. “There is no closed-circuit camera at the location where they dumped the body. They don’t know where it came from, what direction. They know only that this body is of the person from the iron bar company.”
Yang was a “big boss” at his company, and had come to Laos three months prior, another police official from the capital said. The body was cremated in Vientiane, and some of the bones are to be sent to China for further investigation. The suspected motive is a business-related conflict, the second police official said.
Two weeks later, Thai police on Sept. 29 discovered a suitcase floating in the Mekong River containing the dismembered body of Viphaphone Kongsy, 36, chairwoman of the Lao VIP investment company. A dual citizen of Laos and China, the woman also went by the name Lì Jūn Vp. She had been missing since Sept. 10.
The Lao Ministry of Public Security set up a special committee to investigate, but hasn’t released any statements or information about evidence.
An official from the rescue team in Thailand’s That Phnom district, where the body was found, told RFA he went to pick up the body bag and found evidence that suggested murder.
“Her face was beaten by something strong like an iron bar,” he said. “The right side of her stomach has been torn out. She might have been beaten hard with an iron bar before she died.”
A couple days later, residents in Vientiane spotted what turned out to be her car floating in the Mekong River.
Her decomposing body parts are being kept at the Nakhon Phanom hospital in Thailand, a Thai police official said. “They have to test her relatives’ DNA before they can return her body to Laos,” the official said.
The two killings are the latest in a string of similar incidents involving Chinese nationals engaged in business in Laos, where China has invested heavily in infrastructure and manufacturing projects.
With the news of each case, the Lao public has grown ever more fearful, sources told RFA, sparking fears of growing lawlessness.
“News of the murder is making villagers very afraid. They want local officials, police and soldiers to patrol all the time, and the villagers want to take part to be the eyes and ears helping them as well,” said a villager from Phon Hong, where Yang’s body was found. Soldiers patrol the dam where the body was found 24 hours a day, he said.
“This was a murder with the intent to kill this guy without mercy,” a police official said, asking not to be identified. “There have been killings in many provinces in Laos in the past mostly from drug trafficking and drug trades or robbery and stealing, conflict in the family, or among friends, but not as harsh as this one.”
Reports of such killings have increased in recent years of growing resentment in Laos over Chinese business presence in the country, over Chinese casinos and special economic zones which have been linked to human trafficking and crime.
Viphaphone’s investigation should be handled in a transparent way to ease the fears of the people, a Lao source who has been following the case told RFA. “They should announce what they know to the public, what’s going on, right now,” he said.
Another Lao source who is following the case said that it was likely a business-related killing. “Based on observation, this case of murder looks like it stems from business conflict. But the police have not revealed anything yet,” the second source said. “We never dreamed that anything like this would happen in Laos.”
A former Lao government official with knowledge of cases like these also believes the deaths are a result of business conflicts, “perhaps with Laotian, Vietnamese or Chinese who invested money and had a conflict with her and lost,” he said.
A Lao expert on criminal law declined to express an opinion on the case or speculate on its outcome. “But I believe that related sectors must urgently solve this case because it is a horrible case for the public to think about,” the expert said.
Translated by Sidney Khotpanya and Ounkeo Souksavanh. Written in English by Eugene Whong.