Chinese peacekeepers face violence, food shortages on UN mission

By Bai Yunyi Source:Global Times Published: 2016-2-17 19:38:01

A Chinese peacekeeper teaches Haitian children boxing in a public security bureau in Port-au-Prince, capital of Haiti in December 2005. Photo: CFP

 "Before our arrival in Bentiu, people who worked there told us it's a paradise. Only when we got there did we realize it's a paradise where people don't eat or drink," Zhang Ce, a Chinese peacekeeper in Bentiu, South Sudan told the Global Times.

Zhang, along with another 12 policemen from East China's Jiangsu Province arrived in conflict-ridden South Sudan in January. Stationed in four areas, the country's capital Juba, Malakal, Bentiu and Wau, their job is to help protect the 200,000 displaced people living in the country's UN refugee camps.

Food and water shortages are just part of the challenges that peacekeepers face abroad, as they undergo hardships that ordinary people back in China cannot imagine while protecting the refugees of this remote land.

Stray bullets

South Sudan, with a population of 11.7 million people, is one of the least developed countries in the world. It gained its independence on July 9, 2011. The region had previously suffered Africa's longest civil war, as well as severe economic depression. In 2013, yet another outbreak of armed conflict caused the large-scale displacement of refugees, many of whom are now living in the country's six UN camps and are protected by peacekeepers.

"We have been deployed on the front lines to offer 24-hour protection for the refugees," Xue Qiang, captain of the Chinese peacekeepers in South Sudan who is currently stationed in Juba, told the Global Times.

The political turbulence has not only raised serious security concerns for the refugees, but also led to heightened risks for humanitarian workers in the country, as six were killed in the country's Maban County in 2014, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported.

"There are many gangs entrenched around the camps in Juba, whose members have weapons and commit serious crimes such as murder, rape and robbery," said Xue, adding that "stray bullets are quite common at night, so we must wear helmets and body armor while on duty."

Apart from gang violence, tensions and fighting among refugees from different ethnic groups or families, often involving large numbers of participants and weapons, have also put Xue and his colleagues in jeopardy.

"A fight between two families over food and supplies took place in Juba's camp in January, and they were planning to use grenades. We were lucky that the grenades were not detonated, or we would have been killed," Yang Shuo, a peacekeeper police stationed in Juba said. "It's very common to find hidden weapons in the camps such as grenades and machetes. Occasional raids cannot stop the flow of weapons into the camps."

Food insecurity

While facing violence is a regular experience for those Chinese peacekeepers, lacking food and water is another life-and-death ordeal that they must tackle constantly.

"The conflict left Bentiu a ruined town with poor infrastructure and no mobile phone signal. There are no shops or markets, so we can only depend on the supplies sent from Juba. It would be a luxury if you can have enough food and water here," Zhang said.

Millions of refugees are suffering from food shortages and malnutrition as they cannot plant, grow and harvest crops due to their forced displacement, and the continuing violence could cause famine in the country, UNHCR reported.

"Due to the lack of basic commodities, we have brought vegetable seeds to South Sudan, hoping to support ourselves," Zhang Zhongfu, another peacekeeper in Juba said.

Despite the dangers and hardship, Chinese peacekeepers have a record of "zero repatriations, zero violations of discipline and zero battle casualties," which has been praised by the international community, Xu Naigang, deputy director of the International Cooperation Department at the Ministry of Public Security, told the Global Times.

China has sent 2307 peacekeepers to join nine UN peace-keeping missions since 2000, Xu said.

Newspaper headline: Securing South Sudan

Posted in: Military

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