China gives Benin $34m in loans, grants
Cotonou - China has given Benin $34m in loans and grants, part of which will fund an anti-piracy patrol drive off the coast of the west African country where hijackings have surged this year.
The aid package was announced by the office of President Thomas Boni Yayi, shortly after he returned home on Tuesday at the end of a week-long official trip to China.
Of the $34m, about $5,5m will go towards the purchase of a vessel to patrol the waters off the coast of Benin, which has seen 19 ships coming under attack this year alone, up from zero reported last year.
An international maritime watchdog has warned that the spate of ship hijackings off west Africa indicates the region could emerge as a new piracy "hotspot".
The rest of the funds will be development aid, the president's office said.
"This aid is made up of grants, debt relief and interest-free loans," it said in a statement.
Foreign Minister Arifari Bako said the aid was earmarked especially for road construction and the revival of agriculture in this cotton-producing country.
Yayi held talks with his counterpart Hu Jintao on further Chinese investment in the west African nation, as well as business leaders during the visit which coincided with a summer session of the World Economic Forum.
As is the case in a growing number of African nations, China is stepping up its investment, financing a number of important infrastructure projects in Benin, a former French colony with a population of some nine million people.
Such projects include roads and health infrastructure, as well as the country's largest stadium and a new foreign ministry building.