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Helping to keep the peace in West Africa

Updated: 2014-11-21 09:14
By Zhou Huiying (China Daily Africa)

PLA troops on UN mission in Mali lauded for contributions under highly challenging circumstances

After eight months, the first troops of the People's Liberation Army taking part in the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali returned to China in September.

At the request of the UN, the PLA had deployed the troops made up of 155 engineers, 70 medical workers and 170 soldiers to the West African country.

Helping to keep the peace in West Africa

China's first Blue Berets in Mali served on an eight-month UN mission. Provided to China Daily

The troops successfully repaired roads and bridges, safeguarded peace and stability, and provided medical assistance.

On Aug 1, the 87th anniversary of the PLA, all 395 Chinese peacekeepers were awarded the UN Peace Medal for their outstanding contributions in the mission.

It was China's 30th UN peacekeeping mission since 1990.

More than 27,000 Chinese military personnel have participated in UN peacekeeping missions in 24 mission areas, making China the biggest contributor to such missions among the five permanent members of the UN Security Council.

The latest mission marked the first time China had sent security forces on such a deployment, and it was a big step for the country in UN peacekeeping efforts.

The participating Chinese Force Protection Company, all from a Harbin-based contingent, was set up in July 2013.

"In just two days after announcing the news of forming the first such peacekeeping security forces, more than 2,000 soldiers submitted their applications for the mission," says Zhang Geqiang, head of the contingent.

Yang Huawen, a 28-year-old captain who has served in the army for 10 years, was preparing for his wedding at that time.

"When I got the news, my first thought was, 'I must participate in the mission'. That also meant I would have to postpone my wedding to the next year," Yang says.

To allow Yang to carry out the mission wholeheartedly, his wife decided to register their marriage before his departure.

"She is a policewoman and she continually supports me," Yang says. "We registered our marriage on the morning of July 1 last year, and my orders to depart to Mali came that afternoon."

"I asked her not to worry about me because I was part of a strong team and I could carry out the mission in Mali successfully," Yang says.

"But I was actually aware of the dangers involved. Before departing for the mission, I had already prepared documents in case I did not survive."

After returning in triumph, the most important thing for Yang was to give his wife the best wedding ceremony he could.

"We held the ceremony on Oct 1, China's National Day," Yang says.

During the eight months, the Chinese Force Protection Company successfully guarded the mission headquarters and the living quarters of peacekeeping forces.

"Before departing, I led a series of special training programs for the team to enhance their physical and psychological capabilities. We all got ready for the challenges, from the extreme natural environment and the grim situation of Mali," Zhang says.

"But when we landed in Gao, the city in east Mali where Sector East of the mission was located, we were overwhelmed by a series of difficulties beyond our imagination."

Mali, with a tropical desert climate, is extremely dry and hot.

Although the troops had been trained for the local weather, the huge temperature differences between Harbin and Gao were still very challenging. Up to one-fifth of the contingent had been hit by fever.

"Almost every one of us had been bitten by various mosquitoes and other insects that we never saw in China," Zhang says.

"The sudden sandstorms could also sweep whole tents away.

"But all these difficulties could not dampen the spirit of the Chinese Blue Helmets. From the first day we set foot in Mali, we knew we had to stick to our posts."

The troops continued to face life-and-death situations on a daily basis.

The situation in Mali is very unstable, with extremists rampant in the region, and the mission camp was attacked often.

The well-trained Chinese peacekeepers built a strong defense against these threats with their sophisticated military equipment designed and manufactured in China.

"The Chinese peacekeepers are the best I have met, and you are trustworthy," says Herve Ladsous, the UN under-secretary-general for peacekeeping operations, during his trip to inspect the troops in China in October 2013.

In the camps of the mission in Mali, there is a famous Chinese Blue Helmets honor guard.

The honor guard is composed of 26 members selected from the contingent, and it is the first peacekeeping honor guard from China.

"We must complete our tasks on the basis of ensuring the safety of important people under such dangerous situations," says Wang Yang, the head of the team.

"We train only during our spare time because of the demands of our daily tasks," Wang says.

"But everybody trained hard because we know that we represent China and the PLA."

The team completed its tasks and won the appreciation of important politicians and generals.

"We are guilty of being unfilial sons or absent fathers or husbands, but we all play one role successfully that of a Chinese soldier," Zhang Geqiang says.


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