More cargo ships attacked in Myanmar

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 07 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 07 January, 2012, 12:00am


Chinese cargo ships have been attacked at a pier on the Mekong River in Myanmar, less than a month after China resumed cargo ship traffic on the waterway. Traffic was halted after the killing of 13 Chinese sailors on the river's Thai section in October.

Mainland media said militants fired two high-explosive shells in the attack on the four ships and one Myanmese patrol vessel early on Thursday.

According to Thai water police, neither shell hit but one exploded near the patrol boat. There were no casualties, People's Daily reported.

It said the patrol vessel did not fight back because it could not locate the target in the dark.

The attack has again raised concerns over the river's safety, which is commercially and strategically important but plagued by smuggling and bandits.

In late October, China, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand reached an agreement in Beijing on joint law enforcement and patrols on the Mekong after the attack on two cargo ships earlier that month.

Several Thai soldiers confessed to the October murders.

On December 12, three days after the countries launched the patrols, three members of the Myanmese water police were killed on the river.

China only resumed passenger traffic on the river on Wednesday.

Fang Youguo , the secretary general of the Lancang River Shipowners' Association in Yunnan , said there was concern about the safety of unarmed sailors, and that the industry was defenceless.

'Simply being vigilant isn't enough for our unarmed sailors, it needs co-operation between Chinese authorities and the other three countries,' he said.

Lancang River is the Chinese section of the waterway, running through Yunnan, Qinghai and Tibet .

Li Wei , a researcher from the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, said joint patrols and escorts would not make the Mekong permanently safe.

'The latest attack suggests that safety along the Mekong River is still threatened,' he said. 'The four countries will need further co-operation to crack down on drug traffickers and multinational criminal gangs, as well as to build up an emergency mechanism in order to root out the problems from the waterway.'

He said it was nearly impossible to rely simply on patrols. 'It's different from providing escorts to cargo ships at sea, where patrols can detect attackers easily,' he said. 'Along the Mekong, criminals can appear any time, anywhere.'

The four countries have agreed to set up a joint command centre in Guanlei, Yunnan province, to co-ordinate and organise future patrol missions.