October 30, 2011 / 5:07 AM / 8 years ago

Myanmar reassures China after dam blocked, sailors killed

BEIJING (Reuters) - A senior Myanmar government minister assured China on Sunday of his country’s friendship and cooperation with Beijing, state news agency Xinhua reported, ties having been strained by the suspending of a dam project and the killings of Chinese sailors.

Last month, Myanmar’s new civilian President Thein Sein suspended the $3.6 billion Myitsone dam being built and financed by Chinese companies in northern Myanmar after weeks of public outrage over the project in the country also known as Burma.

China has called for talks to resolve the matter. But it has also been angered by an October 5 attack on the Mekong River near the Thai-Myanmar border in which 13 Chinese sailors were killed.

Myanmar Interior Minister Ko Ko, meeting China’s Public Security Minister Meng Jianzhu in Beijing to discuss the Mekong killings, said his country would remain a good neighbor.

“The Myanmar government pays great attention to its friendly cooperation relationship with China,” Xinhua paraphrased him as saying.

“Myanmar is willing to work hard with China on security cooperation on the Mekong River, take effective measures to crack down on cross-border criminal activities which harm the interests of countries on the river, and maintain international navigation safety on the river.”

Thai police said on Sunday that nine Thai soldiers had turned themselves in over the killing of the Chinese sailors, which happened in the “Golden Triangle,” where the borders of Myanmar, Thailand and Laos meet, a region notorious for drug smuggling.

China had demanded that Thailand, Laos and Cambodia ensure the safety of Chinese sailors on the river.

The deaths, as well as the suspension of the dam project, have underscored Chinese worries about both instability in Myanmar and how once close relations might change under the former British colony’s new civilian government.

The shelving of the dam, agreed to by Myanmar’s then military rulers in 2006, was seen as an unprecedented challenge to China’s extensive economic interests in Myanmar, long shunned by the West for its poor human rights record.

In recent years, Myanmar’s leaders have embraced investment from China as a market for its energy-related resources and to counterbalance the impact of Western sanctions.

While China and Myanmar have close economic and political ties, including the building of oil and gas pipelines into southwestern China, there are also deep mutual suspicions.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Paul Tait

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