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Shanxi teens held for ransom in Burma

The Beijing News
January 19, 2008

The Beijing News reported today that teens from Shanxi Province were lured to Burma with false promises of lucrative jobs. They were then kidnapped and tortured until their families paid a ransom.

Since last October, rumors have circulated about teens going missing from Yuncheng, Shanxi Province (山西运城). Many parents were so worried about their own children that they escorted them to schools.

16-year-old Zhou Dawei was the first to have been reported missing. At the end of September, Zhou told his parents that he was going to Yunnan with a friend. He said he had a job waiting for him there. After he left, his parents never heard from him again.

In October, a man named Qiao Jianguo reported that he could not contact his 15-year-old son, who left home to be a migrant worker.

A man named Zhang Yaowu said he never allowed his son to talk to strangers or leave home for work. But after attending a friend's birthday party, his son Zhang Bo went missing on October 12.

Such incidents happened again and again. It seemed that all the victims were teenagers, and that they told their families they were leaving home for a job.

On October 1, Dawei's father Zhou Runsheng received a phone call from his son in Myitkyina, Burma, who told him that he had been arrested for drug dealing and would be executed if 80,000 yuan were not paid immediately. Zhou consulted his neighbors and relatives. All of them were doubtful that such things could really happen.

A few days later, another man also got a phone call from Burma. His son had been kidnapped, too. The kidnapper demanded a ransom of 80,000 yuan, threatening to skin his son if their conditions were not met.

Other families whose children had gone missing also received similar calls from Myitkyina.

Zhang Yunbao, the police captain in Yanhu District of Yuncheng said the police had received over ten kidnap reports claiming that the victims were being held in Myitkyina. According to Zhang, the number of victims in all of Yuncheng could be much higher.

On December 5, Zhang Yaowu and another victim's father each wired 80,000 yuan to the kidnappers' bank accounts as required. Three days later, their sons were released. According to the two victims, Zhang Bo and Li Bin, they were first invited by a boy named Du Feng to go to his birthday party. Du was their classmate in elementary school but they hadn't seen each other for a while.

The three later went to Du's hotel room for a chat. Du told the two boys about how he struck it rich. Du said he was working for a man named Zhang Yingzhou. According to what Du told them, Zhang was doing business with the Burmese militants and if his friends wanted to be rich too, he could introduce them to Zhang, who was in Yuncheng at the time.

Zhang later showed up with three bodyguards and a pretty girl. After talking with the two boys, Zhang promised that they would soon be able to make 6,000 yuan in ten days.

On October 16, the four crossed the border between Burma and Longchuan, Yunnan Province. The two boys said that they got beaten up the next morning by some strangers and their "friends" Du Feng and Zhang Yingzhou never showed up again.

They were forced into a small cell, where some of the other kidnapped boys were living. They recognized that one of them was from their township and had been missing since the beginning of October. The boy was skinny and had apparently lost his mind.

Zhang Bo said he was tortured that afternoon. The kidnappers burned him with cigarette butts and pulled his nails using a pincer. Zhang was given a phone when he cried aloud out of pain. He was ordered to ask for money.

Li Bing, the other boy, said that the kidnappers stuck a chopstick into his flesh and sliced his skin open. Zhang said Li was tortured because the kidnapper thought he was not crying loud enough on the phone. Li said he was not the most abused, he saw one victim got half of his hand chopped off.

According to officer Zhang Yunbao, even though they knew that victims' whereabouts, they could do little because the criminals were out of their jurisdiction. The Myitkyina area is controlled by militants who don't respond to the Burmese government.

The police even paid the ransom for a boy named Wang Jian, who was released on January 7. Four days after Wang Jian came back, four families received phone calls from Burma. On the phone, their children were crying for help.

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