Keeping the peace, showing the flag
Updated: 2012-08-01 02:30
By Zhao Shengnan (China Daily)
Even though he'd only been in Beijing for a few hours, Che Lijie was anxious to continue his journey home to west China, a distance of more than 2,500 km, to be reunited with his family after a stint in Syria.
"I am very grateful to my wife. She has been too worried to sleep more than five hours a night during the past two months and 10 days, the duration of my stay in Syria," said the 39-year-old army officer.
Che was one of four Chinese military observers to the United Nations' Supervision Mission in Syria who arrived back in China on July 25.
Six Chinese army officers traveled to Syria on May 14 to join the United Nations' peacekeeping mission and monitor the fragile cease-fire in Damascus. Their arrival meant that the number of Chinese military observers in Syria rose to eight.
Six Chinese army officers arrived in Damascus, capital of Syria, on May 14 to join the UN peace keeping mission and monitor the fragile cease-fire in the city. Jiang Tieying / Xinhua
Zhang Fu , Zhang Ming, Xie Hui and Che returned home after the UN decided on July 20 to temporarily downsize the scale of the mission from 300 observers to 150.
All the Chinese observers had participated in previous UN peacekeeping missions and received intensive training in anti-terrorism practices, anti-abduction techniques, identification of explosives, first-aid skills and vehicle repairs. They all have good foreign-language and driving skills.
Although the observers weren't required to visit the front, they were aware that they ran the risk of attack during their unarmed patrols in residential areas and a number of conflict zones, said Che.
During a period of a little more than two months, the UN mission issued seven temporary restriction orders, outlining the areas considered safe for observers, to ensure their safety, he added.
Zhang Fu, 33, arrived in the country on April 25, and experienced the intense fighting taking place within 1 km of the place where he lived. "The sound of explosions and gunfire was so loud, it was obvious that the fighting was close. To make sure I was safe at night, I slept between two beds and wore my bulletproof vest," he said.
Moreover, the Chinese observers faced more danger than those from other countries, because some of the opposition parties and the local people could not immediately understand why China vetoed three Western-backed UN resolutions at the Security Council.
Left: A fighter mans a mounted gun in the Salaheddin district of the restive Syrian city of Aleppo on July 29. Right: A bomb crater in a Damascus street. Photos by Pierre Torres / AFP (Left) and Xinhua
Beijing opposed the imposition of sanctions on Syria and insisted that political dialogue and the mediation efforts of the United Nations-Arab League special envoy Kofi Annan were the proper way to solve the crisis.
The observers were in constant danger because of the threat of bombings at their offices in downtown Damascus, they said. Moreover, the risk of attack was high. "In one incident, people dressed like civilians suddenly tried to pull one of our Chinese observers from the patrol vehicle. Fortunately, another observer pulled the door closed and the vehicle was able to quickly leave the scene," Che recalled.
Despite those difficulties, the Chinese observers worked hard to promote a peaceful resolution in Syria. Unlike most of the observers, who spoke French or Arabic, the Chinese staffs' fluent English meant they shouldered much of the work at the mission headquarters.
As one of the first batch of observers, Zhang Fu often worked more than 15 hours a day.
"For quite a while, I relied on three boxes of cakes I brought from China because it was hard to get food amid the conflict. After a month of this regime, I'd lost about 7 kg," he said.
Under the complicated security conditions, the Chinese observers completed duties such as coordination, liaison, supervision and investigation, the Peacekeeping Affairs Office of the Ministry of National Defense told the People's Liberation Army Daily newspaper.
Actually, most of Syrian people were friendly to China and the observers, said Zhang Ming, a 38-year-old officer in the mission.
"A shopkeeper working near my base expressed his gratitude for China's mediaion efforts on the Syrian issue. Although he only spoke basic English, I could feel his desire for peace," he said.
Civilians are the biggest victims of turmoil and children are the main victims among the civilians, said Che, the father of a young daughter.
"I felt sorry for the children at the kindergarten near our office, because of the high price of natural gas caused by the sanctions, they can't even get enough heat," he said.
"Those children deserve a peaceful life, instead of becoming 'a forgotten generation'," said Zhang Fu.
China's role in the UN
Although the mission was controversial from the day it entered Syria to the conclusion of its deployment, after the period of duty was extended by 30 days, it was a demonstration of support for the country by the international community, said Che.
"Our existence means the UN and the world hasn't given up on Syria but are still striving for an early peace."
This is one of the few arrangements widely accepted by the international community and shows what the world can do for the Syrian people, said Zhang Fu. "As a responsible country, China has a duty to be part of this."
This year marks the 22nd anniversary of the PLA's participation in UN peacekeeping operations. The PLA has so far participated in 23 missions, sending more than 20,000 troops, according to the Peacekeeping Affairs Office.
There are currently almost 2,000 Chinese military peacekeepers operating as part of 11 UN missions, making China the largest troop-contributing country among the five permanent members of the Security Council, said the office.
The UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, said on July 17 that he was very grateful to the Chinese government and the young people who are working hard, demonstrating a strong sense of commitment to world peace and security.
"I hope that China will continue to dedicate itself to world peace and security," said Ban as he chatted on Sina Weibo, a popular Chinese micro blog.
When asked if they were willing to return to Syria as part of a future UN mission, all four officers said they'd be happy to participate.
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