|Patrol boats carrying police officers from China, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand leave Guanlei Port in Dai Autonomous Prefecture of Xishuangbanna, southwest China's Yunnan Province, as a joint patrol along the Mekong River kicks off on Dec. 10, 2011. The kickoff of the joint patrol, conducted by police forces from the aforementioned four nations, put an end to a suspension of shipping along the Mekong River following a deadly attack on Chinese ships in October. (Xinhua/Lin Yiguang)
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XISHUANGBANNA, Yunnan, Dec. 10 (Xinhua) -- Chinese police Saturday started joint patrols with their counterparts from Laos, Myanmar and Thailand to maintain security along the Mekong River, a major transport passage in the region.
The joint patrol marked the restoration of international shipping services on the Mekong River that had been suspended since deadly attacks on Chinese cargo ships on Oct. 5.
Escorted by five joint patrol boats, ten cargo vessels set sail from the Guanlei Port in Xishuangbanna of southwest China's Yunnan province at the launching ceremony Saturday morning.
"I have nothing to worry about now with the patrol boats escorting the cargo vessels," said Lu Huarong, waving farewell to his son, captain of one of the cargo ships.
The patrol boats are equipped with heavy machine guns and 10cm-thick protective walls, while the police officers are equipped with automatic rifles and bullet-proof life jackets.
"With the protection, the resumption is a new starting point for the international shipping of the Mekong River," said He Jingtao, vice director of Xishuangbanna's maritime bureau.
"It will bring bright prospects for economic growth and people's exchanges in countries along the river and make the river a golden international waterway that is really safe, peaceful and friendly," He said.
The Mekong River, known in China as the Lancang River, rises on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau and flows through China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam before spilling into the South China Sea.
The river plays a crucial economic role throughout the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS). It also serves as a major bond of the economic cooperation between China and the GMS nations and one of the key transport passages in the China-ASEAN free trade zone.
The river, however, has witnessed increasingly more smuggling of drugs, weapons and ammunition, and attacks on boats over the past couple of years.
The four countries decided to launch joint police patrols in late October, weeks after two cargo ships were attacked on Oct. 5, resulting in the murder of 13 Chinese sailors.
The headquarters for the initiative was established in Xishuangbanna, while liaison offices were set up in the other three countries Friday to share intelligence and coordinate operations.
China has selected more than 200 officers from the country's border police force to form a special police team for the joint patrols along the Mekong River.
Joint police patrols are expected to help restore shipping services, protect the safety of passengers and vessels, as well as reduce crimes along the river, said Meng Hongwei, China's vice minister of public security, on Friday.
The four nations also sought to further build a long-term mechanism on joint patrol cooperation to crack down on crimes and safeguard social order in the Mekong River region, the Ministry of Public Security said in a statement.
Video: Police training for joint Mekong patrols
Studio interview: China's role in joint patrols