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NEWS UPDATES Asean Affairs     9 November  2011

Armed patrols for Mekong

Following the deaths of 13 Chinese sailors in October, China  and several neighbouring countries will provide armed escorts to ships navigating the Mekong River, Chinese state media said on Wednesday.

The state-run China Daily newspaper quoted the Ministry of Public Security as saying China and its Southeast Asian neighbors - believed to be Thailand, Laos and Myanmar - would begin armed patrols on the river next 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.

"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, a spokesperson for the ministry's border control bureau, as saying.

The ministry refused to comment when contacted by media.

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.

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