Chinese cargo ships return to Mekong

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 December, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 12 December, 2011, 12:00am


China resumed cargo ship traffic on the Mekong River for the first time since the killing of 13 Chinese sailors last month.

Ten cargo ships, escorted by patrol vessels, entered the Thai section of the river yesterday afternoon.

Several Thai soldiers confessed to the murders, and the Thai government said they acted on their own and that the military hierarchy was not involved. China suspended shipping on the river.

The Mekong is commercially and strategically important to the region but is plagued by rampant smuggling and bandits. Beijing allowed its ships to resume navigation on the waterway only after it secured a landmark security co-operation deal with Myanmar, Laos and Thailand.

The four countries agreed to jointly patrol the Mekong and provide escorts to the cargo ships.

Yesterday's escort mission was jointly carried out by forces from Thailand and China. It is the first time in decades that armed Chinese vessels have entered the Mekong River.

According to the Yunnan government's website, two patrol boats under the People's Armed Police took part in yesterday's escort mission. The countries have agreed to set up a joint command centre in Guanlei, Yunnan province, to co-ordinate and organise future patrol missions. China earlier said it would station up to 1,000 armed officers to patrol the river.

Officials from China, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand reached an agreement in Beijing on October 31 on joint law enforcement and patrols on the Mekong.