CHIANGRAI TIMES – The Mekong River Operation Unit of the navy will be expanded to better contribute to joint patrols with China, Laos and Myanmar against robbers, drug smugglers and illegal immigrants, navy chief Surasak Roomruangwong said on Wednesday.
Admiral Surasak said at present the MROU in Chiang Rai has only 200 navy soldiers with only three river patrol boats and eight assault boats.
The MROU will be beefed up with more personnel and boats. Meanwhile, pending approval of our request, we have to rotate our manpower between boat stations in the area.
Admiral Surasak said the MROU is responsible for protecting the country’s sovereignty along the river in addition to suppression of smuggling, so clashes and losses were inevitable.
He said since Dec 10 last year Thailand has taken part in four-nation joint river patrols involving three boats from China, one from Laos, and one from Myanmar and one from the Thai marine police.
The joint patrols along the Mekong river start from Kuan Lei port in China’s Xishuangbanna, past the Golden Triangle straddling Laos and Myanmar and end on entering Thai territorial waters. The MROU takes over the patrol from that point of entry.
The joint patrols began after 13 crewmen of a Chinese boat were killed on the Mekong River and their bodies were found in Thai territory. As a result, nine Thai soldiers of the Pha Muang force have been charged in connection with the murders.
We are sorry about what happened, but the Thai army soldiers must be given justice, said Rear Admiral Sorracha Sornprathum, the MROU commander.
Rear Admiral Sorracha said boats passing along a stretch of more than 150km of the Mekong River had been robbed by groups of 20-100 bandits under No Kham.
China gave two boats, each equipped with a machinegun, to Laos for use in the joint patrols. Patrol members usually operate in plain-clothes and provide protection for cargo boats.
Rear Admiral Sorracha said more personnel are needed for the MROU for both suppression and intelligence operations because more drugs, mostly methamphetamine and crystal meth (ice), and contraband are being smuggled across the Thai-Lao border in addition to the usual routes across the Thai-Burmese border.
The MROU is responsible for patrolling a 917km stretch of the Mekong River. It has four main bases – at Chiang Rai, Nong Khai, Nakhon Phanom and Ubon Ratchathani – and a total of 14 boat stations.
Col Thanathip Sawangsaeng, the defence spokesman, said the 19th Thai-Lao General Border Committee (GBC) meeting will be held in Bangkok.
Gen Douangchai Pichit, the Lao defence minister, will attend the meeting along with Thai Defence Minister Sukumpol Suwanatat.
The meeting is expected to focus on the joint patrols and drug suppression.
Writer: Wassana Nanuam