China and several neighbouring countries will provide armed escorts to ships navigating the Mekong River, state media said Wednesday, after 13 Chinese sailors were killed on the key waterway last month.
The sailors died in a raid on two Chinese cargo boats on the Mekong on October 5 — an attack thought to have been carried out by a notorious gang in the “Golden Triangle” area known for drug smuggling.
Police in Thailand have since detained nine soldiers suspected of killing the sailors, and also thought to have links to a Myanmar drug kingpin.
The state-run China Daily newspaper quoted the Ministry of Public Security as saying China and its Southeast Asian neighbours — believed to be Thailand, Laos and Myanmar — would begin armed patrols on the river next month.
“China’s contribution to the patrols will come from a special armed force established under the Yunnan Provincial Border Control Corps,” the report quoted Cheng Jun, spokesperson for the ministry’s border control bureau, as saying.
The ministry refused to comment when contacted by AFP.
The report also quoted Yang Xi, a spokesperson for the Yunnan border corps, as saying that patrol forces would escort both Chinese ships and those from other countries.
The Mekong flows through Yunnan into southeast Asia.
China reacted angrily to the October attack, summoning diplomatic envoys from Thailand, Laos and Myanmar and asking authorities to speed up investigations into the incident.
It also sent patrol boats down the Mekong to escort 164 stranded Chinese sailors and 28 cargo ships home, and has suspended shipping on the waterway, which runs through the four countries as well as Cambodia and Vietnam.
The river normally serves as a major trade route through those countries.