Deal reached on Mekong security
Officials from China, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand reached an agreement in Beijing yesterday on joint law enforcement and patrols on the Mekong River, where 13 Chinese sailors were killed last month.
It is the first security co-operation deal by the four countries on controlling crime on the river, which is plagued by rampant smuggling of drugs, people and other contraband.
Public Security Minister Meng Jianzhu said after meeting officials from the three Southeast Asia countries yesterday that China's southern neighbours had agreed to share information and step up investigations into the October 5 killing of the Chinese sailors.
Thai Deputy Prime Minister Kowit Wattana, Laotian Deputy Prime Minister Lieutenant General Douangchay Phichit, and Myanmese Home Affairs Minister Lieutenant General Ko Ko attended the meeting.
A joint statement issued afterwards said the four countries would work towards resuming navigation along the river by next month and take action against cross-border drug trafficking. It added that security co-operation meetings would be convened when necessary.
China's Defence Minister General Liang Guanglie said the People's Liberation Army would be prepared to step in to ensure safety along the Mekong.
'The Ministry of Public Security will be responsible for the operations,' Liang said. 'But we will give our support whenever necessary.'
China suspended passenger and cargo traffic in the headwaters of the river after the sailors were killed.
Kowit told Xinhua that a preliminary investigation suggested the Chinese sailors were not involved in illegal activities. Previous Thai media reports suggested, however, that the killings were linked to drug trafficking, with the Thai authorities finding about 920,000 methamphetamine pills on one of the ships.
Thai police arrested nine Thai soldiers in connection with the incident. The suspects reportedly turned themselves in on Friday after Thai police issued arrest warrants.
But General Priewpan Damapong, the head of Thailand's police force, denied that the army or other elements of the Thai government were behind the killings, saying further investigations were under way.
Xiamen University Professor Zhuang Guotu, director of the China Southeast Asian Research Association, said the agreement could help maintain safety. Zhuang said the security situation on the Mekong was often chaotic and that a lack a of co-ordination had made it a hiding place for criminals.
'Some of the criminals are from ethnic minority groups and the central governments of the countries involved are weak at controlling them,' he said. 'The operations of such criminals are getting more organised. A concerted effort by the four countries can deter the criminals.'
However, Dr Fan Hongwei, another Southeast Asian affairs expert at Xiamen University, said it was too early to say if the agreement could curb crime. 'It depends on how much effort the countries involved put into implementing the agreement,' Fan said.