Mekong security agreement reached

Updated: 2011-11-01 08:01

By Zhang Yan and Cui Haipei (China Daily)

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Four nations, including China, take measures to safeguard river

BEIJING - Four countries, including China, have agreed joint security operations on the Mekong River where 13 Chinese sailors were murdered last month.

Officials from China, Myanmar, Thailand and Laos vowed to boost law enforcement on the river, according to a statement released after a meeting in Beijing on Monday.

"The smuggling of drugs and weapons has been rampant on the Mekong in recent years and crimes such as blackmail and armed robbery occur frequently and endanger shipping," the statement, released by the Ministry of Public Security, said.

"It's necessary for law enforcement agencies to strengthen cooperation and take effective measures," it said.

The agreement came after 13 Chinese sailors, on two cargo ships, Hua Ping and Yu Xing 8, were shot with their hands tied behind their back on the Mekong River on Oct 5.

Nine Thai soldiers surrendered on Friday as suspects in the case.

"The participants (in the meeting) agreed to take effective measures to boost efforts in a joint investigation to uncover the details of the case and bring the criminals to justice as soon as possible," the statement said.

The four countries established a new security mechanism for the river.

Under the agreement, the countries will share intelligence, patrols and law enforcement. The agreement also stipulates cooperation in case of major incidents endangering public order and any emergencies. Tackling transnational crime is also covered.

All participants will "carry out coordinated special campaigns to eradicate criminal organizations which have long threatened the region's security", the statement said.

Song Qingrun, a researcher at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, called the joint law enforcement mechanism a breakthrough.

"It will help ensure the safety of sailors from the four countries," Song said.

"Strengthening security cooperation on the Mekong is important as it provides a broad scope for economic development between China and other concerned countries," he added.

The agreement, if fully implemented, could lead to long-term stability on the Mekong, Dai Peng, director at the criminal investigation department under the Chinese People's Public Security University, said.

But due to legal hurdles and the different political systems in each of the countries, there are major concerns over its implementation, he said.

"After all it's just an agreement on paper."

The 4,880-kilometer Mekong is the longest river in Southeast Asia, and has been dubbed the "Oriental Danube" for its crucial economic role.

The river is an important shipping route linking China to Southeast Asia. From 2000 to 2009 more than 3 million tons of cargo were shipped from China's Yunnan province along the river.

The nine soldiers who turned themselves in face charges of murder and concealing evidence, The Nation newspaper in Bangkok reported on Monday.

The soldiers are thought to have links to a drug kingpin in Myanmar, the paper said.

National Thai police chief, General Priewpan Damapong, promised a full investigation and said the military was fully cooperating.

"Police will prosecute all nine soldiers," he told the paper. "Their actions have nothing to do with the Thai army."

China Daily

(China Daily 11/01/2011 page1)