Turning point: Capture of the consigliere
After tracking down and capturing Yan, China's police gradually learned more about the organizational structure of Naw Kham's cartel. Naw Kham was the top leader, followed by Sang Kang, Yi Lai and Weng Mie.
Police also learnt that the gang's lair was located on Sam Puu Island on the Mekong River, near the borders with Laos and Myanmar. Some 100 armed militants patrolled the river banks, profiting from drug trafficking and the extortion of commuting boats.
Yi Lai was the first one to surface. He directly supervised Yan Xiangzai and served as Naw Kham cartel's consigliere.
He was nabbed in Laos on Dec. 13, 2011, and confessed to Naw Kham plotting the massacre and personally ordering to "kill all the Chinese on board." According to his testimony, Naw Kham issued the order only because the two Chinese ships did not pay their protection rackets. Also, the two ships, Yuxing 8 and Huaping, were thought to be Burmese governmental vessels.
Proposal for drone attacks
Naw Kham had slipped away three times as police tried to close in on him, said Liu Yuejin, who admitted to chasing suspects abroad having to rely on foreign governments' coordination and support.
However, Naw Kham had been commanding the Golden Triangle for years and unexpectedly had supportive resonance with local residents, who created further barriers for the chasing police officers.
The first time this occurred, was in Laos. In late December of 2011, Chinese police accurately narrowed down Naw Kham's location in a village in Phou Khao Province along the Mekong River where Naw Kham's mistress lived. But as the armed police officers were about to enclose the village, local officials and villagers came to obstruct the action, despite the presence of actual Laotian government troops.
"We were held there in standoff. We had the local sheriff, but they brought in provincial officials," Liu said. "Several hours had already passed when a Laos People's Army top officer gave us clearance."
Naw Kham escaped as the night fell. He crossed the river to its Myanmar side.
The constant ups and downs gripped police officers' minds. Chief Liu Yuejin even sometimes asked himself: "Is it really a mission impossible?"
China's Beidou satellite navigation system came to their aid. The task force started to use Beidou for communication, avoiding plugging into foreign countries' mobile networks, since the latter might have compromised the location and identity of Chinese police, possibly resulting in Naw Kham's escape once again.
When the task force once again pinpointed Naw Kham's location in northeast Myanmar's Tachilek mountains, there were proposals to bombard him via unmanned aerial vehicles. "The authorities rejected our proposals. They ordered to capture Naw Kham alive," Liu said.
April 25, 2012, marked the end of Naw Kham's fugitive days. Upon the capture of Sang Kang on April 20, police figured Naw Kham would want to escape to Laos again and hence increased their deployment in Mung Mo.