Women ready for first armed UN mission

Updated: 2014-12-23 07:50

By Zhao Ruixue in Laiyang, Shandong and Zhao Lei in Beijing(China Daily USA)

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China is sending an infantry battalion to South Sudan soon. It will be the first time female soldiers - 13 of them - have taken part in an armed operation on a United Nations peacekeeping mission.

The battalion will be stationed in Juba, South Sudan's capital and largest city, under the command of the UN. It has 121 officers and 579 soldiers, selected from the 26th and 54th group armies under the People's Liberation Army's Ji'nan Military Command.

The unit, established in July, has been assigned to protect civilians, UN personnel and humanitarian aid workers. It will also guard and patrol key facilities and defend them in the event of hostile acts.

Previously, Chinese peacekeeper units have mainly comprised engineering, transportation, medical and security personnel. The latest move indicates China is now willing to send combat forces on peacekeeping missions.

The battalion is made up of three infantry companies and a logistics company. Soldiers are equipped with light weapons, anti-tank missiles and armed vehicles, according to battalion commander Wang Zhen.

A squad of 13 women will take part in the mission. They will be responsible for protecting local women and children, Wang said, adding that it is the first time female Chinese peacekeepers will have taken part in armed operations.

"Since the battalion was formed, we have researched the ... area designated to us and its potential threats, and organized exercises covering eight scenarios," Wang said after attending the unit's oath-taking ceremony in Laiyang, Shandong province, on Monday.

"A six-member UN working team has approved our readiness after examining our personnel's capability, equipment, logistics and training earlier this month," he said.

The first 180 soldiers will fly to South Sudan in January, with the rest traveling by air and sea in March, Wang said.

Xiong Ying, one of the women, said she is confident the female peacekeepers will honor their oaths and fulfill their responsibilities in South Sudan after several months of tough training.

"We have received training specifically designed for our missions. We have been told about the local weather and social development. The battalion is fully prepared," she said. She will carry about 40 kg of weapons and equipment.

The Ji'nan Military Command has sent more than 8,000 officers and soldiers in 23 groups to conduct UN peacekeeping missions since August 2005, when its first Blue Berets arrived in Wau, in what was then the Republic of Sudan.

China is now the sixth-largest contributor to UN peacekeeping funds and the largest among developing countries. It sends the most peacekeepers from among the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and has taken part in 24 peacekeeping missions, sending more than 27,000 personnel.

Wu Xiang contributed to this story.

Contact the writer at zhaoruixue@chinadaily.com.cn

 Women ready for first armed UN mission

Zhang Yuanyuan is among soldiers taking an oath to perform their duties regardless of the circumstances, on Monday in Laiyang, Shandong province. China is preparing to send an infantry battalion to South Sudan on a peacekeeping mission. Qiu Chengliang / for China Daily

(China Daily USA 12/23/2014 page5)