BEIJING (Reuters) - China and southeast Asian neighbors will start coordinated patrols of the violence-troubled Mekong River by mid-December, China's Ministry of Public Security said, after a meeting that also agreed to let Beijing send advisors to Myanmar and Laos.
The announcement followed an uproar after 13 Chinese sailors were killed on the river in October, when their two boats were attacked in the "Golden Triangle," where the borders of Myanmar, Thailand and Laos meet in a region notorious for drug smuggling. Nine Thai soldiers later turned themselves in over the killings.
The ministry said on its website (www.mps.gov.cn) on Wednesday that security officials from China, Thailand, Myanmar and Laos agreed at a recent meeting in Beijing to "together organize and implement joint operations to attack severe public safety problems menacing security along the river."
The agreement will allow Beijing to send "expert support teams" to Laos and Myanmar, if those two countries request training help.
The report made no mention of Thailand wanting such help.
A joint command post for the patrols will be set up in the Chinese river port of Guanlei in Yunnan province, and a maiden patrol will leave from there on an unspecified date before December 15, said the report
In a reflection of territorial sensitivities involved in the joint operations, however, the announcement said they would be "based on each country's legal jurisdictional powers and mutual respect for sovereignty and inequality."
The 4,900-km (3,050 mile) Mekong snakes from China into Southeast Asia, where it forms the border between Myanmar and Laos, and then Thailand and Laos. In 2001, the four countries signed an agreement to regularize shipping on the river.
China's growing presence in Asia, Africa and other parts of the world has prompted attacks, kidnappings and hijackings, and the issue has become a sensitive one for Chinese officials, who do not want to appear weak in protecting nationals.
The Chinese government has bought five ships that will be refitted for the patrols, said an earlier Chinese news report.
(Reporting by Chris Buckley, Editing by Jonathan Thatcher)