Fri, May 26, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Suspected hitman claims funding by Laos government


A suspected hit man said he was hired by the government of Laos to assassinate opponents of its communist regime, including a Lao-American couple killed early this year, Thai police said yesterday.

Police arrested Thai national Athit Klinchan on Wednesday in the northeastern province of Udon Thani, near the border with Laos, in connection with a separate murder on May 11.

During interrogation, police said they found that he was linked to at least eight other killings, including the deaths of Anouwong and Oulayvanh Sethathirath — a Lao-American couple who claimed to be descendants of a Laotian royal family.

“When we arrested the suspect, he was found to be linked to other cases. There are many people involved in his gang who are hunting down” opponents of the Laotian government, said Major General Asawin Kwanmuang, deputy commander of the police Central Investigation Division.

Athit admitted to involvement in the Jan. 18 fatal shooting of Anouwong and Oulayvanh Sethathirath ?known at home in Fairview, North Carolina, as Phillip and Ashley McRowan.

The suspect, however, said it was his fugitive accomplice, Sombat Permpanya, who fired the shots that killed the couple, Asawin said.

Athit told police he was hired by the Lao government to commit the murders and was paid 100,000 baht (US$2,600) for each assassination. He is being held for questioning in Ubon Ratchathani, 470km east of Bangkok.

Soon after the couple’s murder, Thai police said agents of the Lao government were among the suspects, but a spokesman for the Lao Foreign Ministry denied any involvement.

The Lao-American couple, who called themselves prince and princess, said they were descendants of a former king of Laos, although there is no evidence to back their claim.

They had been visiting a Buddhist shrine in Thailand’s northeastern Nong Khai Province when they were gunned down in broad daylight by two men wearing coats and black sunglasses, according to witnesses.

Thai police said they believed the couple were in Thailand to gather financial support for a political movement against Laos’ communist government. Some refugees from Laos have engaged in violence against the country’s government, but the couple was not known to be directly involved with them.

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