Ministers from China and Southeast Asian nations agreed Monday to take joint action to secure transportation along the key Mekong River after 13 Chinese sailors were brutally murdered in the region this month.
They also vowed to step up a joint investigation into the circumstances behind the killings, for which nine soldiers from Thailand thought to be linked to a Burmese drug kingpin have been detained as suspects.
The ministers from China, Laos, Burma and Thailand at a meeting in Beijing agreed to set up a "Law Enforcement Cooperation along the Mekong River Mechanism" to cope with the "new security situation on the river," a joint statement after the meeting said, according to China's state Xinhua news agency.
Under the framework, the four countries will cooperate in intelligence exchanges, patrolling and law enforcement, combating transnational crimes and dealing with "emergency" events, it said.
They will "carry out coordinated special campaigns to eradicate criminal organizations which have long threatened the region's security," said the statement.
Shipping on the Mekong River, which runs through Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, Burma and Thailand from its source in China’s Tibetan plateau, had been suspended after the deadly attack on the 13 Chinese crew members on two cargo ships.
The Oct. 5 attacks occurred in the notorious "Golden Triangle" drug smuggling area straddling the borders of Burma, Thailand and Laos.
The sailors were found with their hands tied behind their backs, blindfolded with adhesive tape and shot or with their throats slit, according to Chinese and Thai media.
Their bodies were found near Chiang Rai in northern Thailand and among the recovered cargo were nearly a million amphetamine tablets—a powerful stimulant—worth 100 million baht (U.S. $3.22 million).
Thailand said on Saturday that nine of its soldiers have been detained as suspects over the killings.
The Thai troops are thought to have links to a Burmese drug kingpin, Agence France-Presse reported.
The soldiers surrendered on Friday in Chiang Rai province, AFP said, quoting an official.
Thai Deputy Prime Minister Kowit Wattana told Xinhua on Monday that the suspects would be given a "fair and just" trial.
Police are analyzing the evidence, while still searching for more clues, Kowit said on the sidelines of the Beijing meeting.
A senior Chinese official, Zhou Yongkang, told Kowit and the ministers from Burma and Laos that President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao were very concerned about the killings and had sent senior security officials to Thailand to work closely on the case.
"With our joint efforts, investigation work has achieved significant progress," said Zhou, from the political bureau of the ruling Communist Party of China's Central Committee.
China has summoned envoys from Thailand, Laos and Burma after the attack and called for swift investigations over the incident. Beijing also sent patrol boats down the Mekong to escort 164 stranded Chinese sailors and 28 cargo ships back home.
According to the joint statement on Monday, the four countries would strive "to uncover the full details of the case and bring the criminals to justice as soon as possible."
The killings underscore increased business rivalries—from shipping to gambling to the drug trade—as China steps up investments in Southeast Asian nations along the Mekong, experts and ethnic group representatives say.
A total of 116 of the 130 ships engaged in international shipping on the Mekong River are operated by Chinese companies, according to the Lancang River Maritime Affairs Bureau. The Mekong is known in China as the Lancang River.
Reported by RFA's language services. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.