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China claims progress fighting human trafficking

BEIJING (Reuters) - China is making progress fighting human trafficking, especially from southeast Asian nations, but needs greater regional cooperation and tougher action, a senior official said on Wednesday.

China has resorted to harsh punishments, including the death penalty, to deter human trafficking. The U.N. Children’s Fund says 250,000 Chinese women and children fell victim to trafficking in 2003.

The government had stepped up publicity campaigns and opened border liaison offices as well as centers for people rescued from trafficking, said Du Hangwei, head of the Ministry of Public Security’s Criminal Investigation Department.

“China has made notable achievements through further enhanced cooperation with countries in the Mekong region, international organizations and non-governmental organizations, and large-scale prevention and combat of trafficking as well as positive assistance for victims,” he told a conference in Beijing.

Transfer centers for repatriation have been opened in the southern region of Guangxi, which borders Vietnam, and Yunnan, which shares a long border with Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam, he added in a speech, a copy of which was obtained by Reuters.

There has been a rise in trafficking cases involving Myanmar women in China in particular in recent years.

The women are mostly smuggled through the porous border into the southwestern Chinese province of Yunnan and then taken to central and north China, where poverty and a skewed sex ratio means many farmers cannot find wives.

Late last year, China jailed six Myanmar nationals for selling 23 Myanmar girls to Chinese peasants as wives.

But Chinese media say many of the women leave Myanmar, one of the world’s 50 least developed countries according to the United Nations, voluntarily and the traffickers are often their fellow villagers who are already married to Chinese husbands.

Du, speaking at an anti-human trafficking meeting also attended by Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand, said countries need to work closer together to fight the problem and take stronger measures.

“At present, the progress of anti-trafficking work in every country is varied with different results,” he said in a veiled criticism, without elaborating.

Du provided no figures.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani