Laos Upgrades Burma Border Security at Mekong

By Patrick Boehler 22 August 2012

VIENTIANE, Laos—A new military road is to be built along the Mekong River where it forms the Burma-Laos border in order to enhance security in the tumultuous Golden Triangle region where pirates have been terrorizing trade.

The Laos Ministry of National Defense and the Chinese state-owned China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC) signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on Monday for the construction of a 289.5 km road along the Laos-Burma border, the Vientiane Times reported on Wednesday.

Construction of the route linking Sing District, Luang Namtha Province, and Tonpheung District, Bokeo Province, was expected “to commence soon,” according to the state-run paper.

The new road will serve a strategic defense purpose and bring security to those living near the frontier, CRBC deputy manager Liu Hong was quoted by the Chinese state news agency Xinhua on Tuesday. Brig-Gen Bouasieng Champaphanh, deputy chief-of-staff of the Laos armed forces, said the project was of “great strategic importance.”

The construction will be financed by means of a soft loan granted by the Chinese government, Xinhua reported.

China and Laos have been upgrading security and defense cooperation after a recent increase in piracy on the Mekong River including the murder of a dozen workers on two Chinese cargo boats on Oct. 5 last year.

China, Burma, Laos and Thailand set up joint patrols in December in response to the perceived increased threat after a Chinese initiative and ministerial meeting on the issue in Beijing. The scheme’s headquarters are set up in Guanlei in China’s western Yunnan Province.

The joint efforts led to the capture of the alleged mastermind of the attack, 42-year old Burmese national Naw Kham, as he was crossing from Burma to Bokeo Province in Laos. The ethnic Shan has been accused of running a criminal organization which engaged in drug trafficking, kidnapping and looting. Laos extradited him to China in May to face trial.

Earlier in August, a new point of contact was set up in Meuang Mung in Bokeo Province for the joint Mekong River patrols. The outpost, which is jointly staffed by Laos and Chinese military personnel, was called “China’s first military base abroad” in an article on the Chinese nationalistic website junshi.com.

In 2010, CRBC signed another MoU with the Laos government for the construction of a bridge across the Mekong improving transportation between Thailand and the Chinese southwest via Laos, also financed by a soft loan similar to the new road project.

China Communications Construction Company Ltd., the parent company of CRBC listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange, was barred from World Bank projects in 2009 upon accusations of collusive practices in the Philippines. The company denied the allegations in a statement.

CRBC, originally a subsidiary of the Foreign Aid Office of the Chinese Ministry of Communications, has been building roads and bridges in difficult environments around the world including North Korea, Iraq and the Democratic Republic of Congo. It also constructed the ring road around Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa and is expanding Pakistan’s Karakoram Highway.

The company was unavailable for comment on its operations in Laos at the time of publication.