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135 peacekeepers depart for Mali

Updated: 2013-12-04 01:06
By ZHAO YANRONG in Harbin ( China Daily)

Troops include first Chinese security forces to serve with United Nations

135 peacekeepers depart for Mali

Chinese peacekeeping troops board a plane at the international airport in Harbin, capital of Heilongjiang province, on Tuesday evening. The contingent of 35 engineers, 65 medical workers and 35 soldiers from the People's Liberation Army will serve an eight-month mission in Mali. Wang Jing / China Daily

With only a few international flights landing and leaving from Harbin, the capital of Heilongjiang province, the city's international airport usually remains quiet. However, on Tuesday, the departure building was bustling with preparations involving a group of Chinese troops.

A 135-strong peacekeeping troop left for Mali on Tuesday evening, in the first time China's army has sent security forces as part of a peacekeeping mission.

At the request of the United Nations, the People's Liberation Army sent the troops, made up of 35 engineers, 65 medical workers and 35 soldiers, to join the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali for eight months.

The Chinese peacekeepers, all from a Harbin-based contingent, will be tasked with repairing roads and bridges, safeguarding peace and stability, and providing medical assistance. This is China's 30th UN peacekeeping mission since 1990.

So far, more than 25,000 Chinese military personnel, police and civil affairs officials have participated in UN peacekeeping missions in 10 mission areas, making China the biggest contributor to such missions among the five permanent members of the UN Security Council.

However, this is the first time China has sent security forces on such a mission.

According to the Ministry of National Defense, the Chinese security force will mainly guard the MINUSMA headquarters and the living areas of peacekeeping forces.

"The Chinese peacekeepers will abide by UN peacekeeping regulations and play a constructive role in safeguarding peace and stability in Mali and the region as a whole," said Yang Yujun, a spokesman for the ministry.

The troop is also equipped with a lot of Chinese-designed and manufactured military equipment, in another major difference from previous missions.

To adopt to the hot climate and the serious security situation, Zhang Geqiang, head of the contingent, led many special training programs for his team to enhance their physical and psychological capabilities.

The security forces also underwent exercises such as anti-terrorism drills and handling large public events.

The hard training program impressed UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous. On his last trip to China in October, Ladsous inspected the troop in Harbin and said the Chinese peacekeepers were the best he had met, Xinhua News Agency reported.

Ladsous said the situation in Mali is very unstable with extremists rampant in the region, so the Malian government needs help from the international community to restore law and order.

"I am very happy to see China contribute to the peacekeeping mission in Mali. Besides the engineering and medical crews, the troops to Mali also include security forces. This is also a big step for China in the UN's peacekeeping mission," Ladsous said.

More Chinese service members will head to the African country early next year, with nearly 400 personnel expected to work on the Mali mission.

Li Shuxiang, a 27-year-old sergeant who has served in the army for eight years, was one of those who left for Africa on Tuesday.

"I didn't think much before I applied for the peacekeeping mission," he said. "I just felt a sense of honor."

Family members of the troops heading overseas cannot help but worry about them.

Yang Wenhua and his wife registered their marriage on the morning of July 1, and his orders to depart to Mali came that afternoon.

Yang's busy training schedule prevented the couple from holding a wedding ceremony, but his wife understood and supported him.

"She kept crying and crying in the last two days before our departure, but she still wants me to be the best in the team and serve the mission in Mali successfully," Yang said, adding that his wife had packed his luggage for him.

The new bride waited at the airport until the lights of the peacekeeper's flight disappeared into the dark night.

"I will give her the best wedding ceremony next year, after the mission," Yang promised before he boarded the aircraft.

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