China Focus: Seven years on, joint patrols on Mekong stabilize region

Source: Xinhua| 2018-11-21 00:18:52|Editor: Yang Yi
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Members of Yunnan border police bureau line up as their patrol missions along the Mekong River starts in Guanlei, southwest China's Yunnan Province, Nov. 20, 2018. The 76th Mekong River joint patrol led by China, Laos, Myanmar, and Thailand started on Tuesday morning from Guanlei Port, Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture in southwest China's Yunnan Province. According to Yunnan border police bureau, the joint patrol will last five days and cover a range of over 500 kilometers to enhance anti-terrorism capability, safeguard the security and crack down on cross-border crimes. The patrol will include anti-terrorism drills, police skill practices and an anti-drug campaign. Since December 2011, the joint patrols have covered more than 39,500 kilometers, with 122 merchant ships rescued and 582.28 kilograms of drugs seized. The Mekong River, also known as the Lancang River in China, is a vital waterway for cross-border shipping among China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. (Xinhua/Xie Ziyi)

By Xinhua Writers Chu Yi and Yang Jing

KUNMING, Nov. 20 (Xinhua) -- At 8 a.m. Tuesday, ships horns echoed through the river valley as the 76th joint patrol of the Mekong River by law enforcement from China, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand set sail, marking its 7th anniversary.

Wearing uniforms, helmets and life jackets, rows of police officers stood at attention on deck, with automatic rifles in hand.

Once every month since 2011, the patrols targeting drug trafficking, smuggling and other cross-border crimes along the Mekong, conduct random inspections in waters near key regions, including the Golden Triangle.

The Mekong River, known as the Lancang River at the Chinese stretch, runs through China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. It is an important waterway for transnational shipping and a border area known for criminal activities.

Complex river conditions also pose a danger, with torrents and rocks constantly threatening to strand or capsize ships on the river.

"The unexpected can always happen on Mekong. Varied and changeable situations along the waterway makes navigation charts impossible, and years of experience is the only reference," said Huang Cheng, a captain for the patrols.

It can take about eight years to train an independent Mekong captain, he said.

Huang is the youngest of the 10 experienced Mekong captains selected for river patrols to tackle safety concerns, after a gang hijacked two cargo ships and killed 13 Chinese sailors in Golden Triangle waters on Oct. 5, 2011, including Huang's uncle.

"I was also on the Mekong, about two hours after my uncle's Huaping [ship]. I saw his ship hijacked but that was a common occurrence for robbery at that time and I never thought he would die," Huang said.

Photographs of the sailors' bodies showed that the victims had their hands tied and their mouths gagged before being executed and some had been blindfolded with tape.

After the brutal attack, the four countries issued a joint statement on law enforcement and security cooperation along the Mekong River. More than 280 officers from China's border force were selected to form a patrol team. Huang applied to join the team.

Two months later, the first joint patrol left the town of Guanlei in southwest China's Yunnan to escort 10 cargo ships into downstream countries in an event marking the resumption of international shipping on the Mekong, which had been halted after the October attack.


"To guarantee the absolute safety of cargo ships is our top priority," said Yan Fan, a member of the river patrol team.

A total of 39 cargo ships resumed shipment after the first joint patrol and the number jumped to 574 after the eighth, he added.

"The patrols have greatly improved security and stability in the region, bringing benefits to residents along the river and promoting trade activities," said Khamsone, a lieutenant colonel with the Lao People's Army.

During the third joint patrol in January 2012, a merchant boat Shengtai 11 was attacked by unidentified gunmen in the Golden Triangle region, with bullets hitting windows, walls and doors. Police officers from China and Laos were sent to the spot immediately and safely escorted the boat back to China.

In March 2013, about 578 kilograms of methamphetamine were seized by the joint force, an effective deterrent to drug dealers in the region.

By the end of October, 640 vessels and about 12,000 law enforcement personnel from the four countries had participated in 75 missions, inspecting 808 ships and more than 70,000 tonnes of cargo, while helping 121 ships out of danger.

"The patrols have effectively boosted shipping safety on the river," said Li Yong, a senior official with the river patrol team.

Success of the patrols has won applause from local residents. "In the first several years, we could see banners and hear cheers welcoming us on both sides of the river," Huang said.

For seven years, security cooperation between the four countries has been getting closer with joint patrols a regular monthly phenomenon. The cooperation has expanded to the cracking down on terrorism and human trafficking, as well as joint search and rescue.

"It has been seven years. Sailing through the water area where my uncle was killed, I still feel heavy. But from shipping to patrolling, I am proud that I can make a difference," Huang said.


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KEY WORDS: Mekong River