A Thai policeman shows a copy of Italian Luigi Maraldi's stolen passport as he visits the Six Stars Travel for questioning in Pattaya, Chonburi province, Thailand, March 10, 2014. (Photo: Sakchai Lalit, AP)
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (USA TODAY) -- Beijing sent delegations here Monday to
probe two stolen passports as reports surfaced that an Iranian man
purchased the two tickets used by those passengers on the Malaysia
Airlines flight that disappeared Saturday off the coast of Vietnam.
diplomat Guo Shaochun arrived with a 10-member working group from the
Chinese ministries of foreign affairs, transport, public security and
the civil aviation administration. Earlier, a team from China's Ministry
of Public Security arrived to discuss the passports with their
The passports, one Italian and one Austrian, were stolen in Thailand in 2012 and 2013. CNN and the Financial Times,
citing Thai police, reported that an Iranian man named Kazem Ali
purchased the tickets used with the passports for two friends who he
said wanted to return home to Europe. The tickets were paid for in cash,
the reports said.
Electronic booking records show the one-way
tickets were issued Thursday from a travel agency in the beach resort of
Pattaya in eastern Thailand. Thai police Col. Supachai Phuykaeokam said
those reservations were actually placed with the agency by a second
travel agency in Pattaya, Grand Horizon.
Thai police and Interpol officers questioned the owners. The travel agency's owner, Benjaporn Krutnait, told The Financial Times
she believed Ali was not connected to terrorism because he had asked
for the cheapest tickets to Europe and did not specify the Kuala Lumpur
to Beijing flight.
Authorities in Malaysia have been quoted by local media as saying that one of the two men had been identified.
said he hoped his team would help speed up Malaysia's investigation of
the jet's disappearance and improve co-ordination between the several
countries now involved. In Beijing, foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang
said the Chinese government "urges the Malaysian side to step up their
efforts to speed up the investigation and provide accurate information
to China in a timely fashion."
The Global Times, a
leading Chinese Communist Party newspaper, was less diplomatic. "The
Malaysian side cannot shirk its responsibilities," said a biting
editorial. "The initial response from Malaysia was not swift enough.
There are loopholes in the work of Malaysia Airlines and security
Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 had left Kuala Lumpur
bound for Beijing with 239 people aboard -- most of them Chinese -- when
it vanished from radar screens.
Late Monday, Vietnam's Deputy
Minister of Transport Pham Quy Tieu said a third day of search and
rescue operations failed to turn up a trace of the jet. He said four
countries have been authorized to search in Vietnamese territory -
Malaysia, Singapore, China and the USA. Overall, ten countries were
involved in the search.
He said operations would continue Tuesday
and would include more aircraft to cover a wider search area. Phu Quoc, a
resort island in the Gulf of Thailand, has been established as the
command center for Vietnam's efforts to locate the jet.
relatives of missing passengers were preparing to board a reserved
Malaysia Airlines flight, leaving early Tuesday from Beijing to Kuala
Lumpur. Passengers on another Malaysia Airlines flight from China on
Monday expressed few concerns about safety, but admitted their relatives
"My parents have been paranoid, but I was in the
middle of a trip and had to take the return flight," said Sohail Walia,
37, an architect from Bombay, who flew from Guangzhou in south China to
Kuala Lumpur Monday. His outward journey came the day before the
disappearance of flight MH370.
Walia flies internationally every 3
months, and 10 days each month within India, but will not be changing
his routine. The tragedy "could have happened on the road, or on a
train," he said. "If you're destined to go wrong at some place, you are
made to reach that place. You can't be scared not to live life, you have
to go on."
"The airport and the whole country is sad," sad Lin
Mohammed, a tourism representative at Kuala Lumpur airport. "We have
several races, Indian, Chinese Malay, and different religions, but they
united in response," she said. "Everybody is hoping to find the plane,
and to find it safe."
As some Chinese relatives prepared to
travel, with rapidly processed passports and visas, more details emerged
of the lives and dreams of their missing relatives. Yao Lifei, 31,
became fed up with the prospective brides his parents kept finding, in
their poor village in north China's Hebei province. So he swapped
Chinese construction sites for one in Singapore where his labors could
earn better wages than in China and, in time, a better girlfriend back
home, said Yao's brother-in-law Monday, who only gave his surname,
Yao's father arrived at the Beijing Lido hotel Sunday,
where the airline has gathered Chinese relatives, but his mother stayed
in Dingzhou, where she collapsed on hearing the news of her son's plane,
and has stayed in bed crying for several days, said Zhang.
speculation in China has suggested, without evidence, that Uighurs, an
ethnic group in northwest China, were responsible for bringing down the
plane. At first, China's state broadcaster even removed the name of the
flight's only Uighur passenger, as if to forestall the fury of China's
Han ethnic majority.
The Uighur painter and art teacher
Maimaitijiang Abula, from China's Westernmost city, Kashgar, was among a
delegation of painters and calligraphers who had visited Malaysia.
"Maimaitijiang is a very mild, but passionate person, a good teacher.
He's so kind to his students and colleagues, he loves Kashgar, and
painted a lot of good artworks," said his friend Yimamuaishan Monday.
"He likes going out in nature himself, or with his students. He paints
whatever's in his mind, he's such a creative artist."
The wife and
brother of the missing artist will travel to Malaysia Tuesday. She and
other relatives have so far hid the news of the incident from the
couple's 10 year-old daughter, said Yimamuaishan.
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