Leaving Beirut, capital of Lebanon, all along the coastal highway southward and passing through bustling towns, you can see more checkpoints and armored vehicles of the United Nations peacekeeping force on road. In the south Lebanese city of Tyre about an hour and a half drive from here lies the barrack of the Chinese peacekeeping contingent.
Since China’s first batch of peacekeeping contingent deployed to Lebanon in 2006, the Chinese peacekeepers have successfully completed all tasks assigned by the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), serving to fulfill peacekeeping missions, passing on peace and friendship, and winning high acclaim from the UNIFIL headquarters, the Lebanese government and the local people.
"There must be someone to undertake the task no matter how dangerous it is"
The area adjacent to the Blue Line, the border demarcation between Lebanon and Israel, is mountainous, covered with dense vegetation and with a distant seascape at sight. In the dense forest, thousands of minefields are scattered and hundreds of thousands of mines are buried.
One of the main tasks of the 21st Chinese peacekeeping multi-role engineer detachment to Lebanon is to clear mines and dispose of explosive ordnance therein. Wearing protective clothing and testing the mine detector, Chen Qian, a mine-sweeping operator, and his comrades-in-arms, stepped into a minefield through a safe passage surrounded by barbed wires and began the day's work.
Since arriving in Lebanon to carry out demining missions, Chen Qian has safely cleared more than 50 landmines. "When I dug the first mine here, I was very nervous, having my heart in my mouth." It was summer at that time, and Chen’s heavy protective gears got soaked in less than a minute; however, he had to take over 20 minutes to get a mine dug out after confirming its location. "At the moment when I saw the mine detonated, I was very excited and also had a sense of achievement. No matter how dangerous mine-sweeping task is, there must be someone to undertake it. I have determined to accomplish tasks assigned and fulfill responsibilities," he said.
On the site, he insisted on carefully disposing of it in accordance with standard operating procedures, though he has been quite familiar with the minefield in front. Pulling the cordon, he began to trim the bushes nearby, starting from the top of the bush and cutting only 20 cm at a time. "The minefield was laid in the 1970s. Due to vegetation growth, rain erosion and other reasons, many mines have been displaced, wrapped up in tree roots or hidden in the grass. Outside the cordon, no one knows where mines are exactly, and we can't afford to make the slightest mistake," he introduced, methodically carrying out a series of operations, including signal source positioning, comprehensive excavation, and mine marking. With the issuance of the detonation order, all four mines cleared on the same day were destroyed.
Since deployed to the mission area in August 2022, the 21st Chinese peacekeeping multi-role engineer detachment to Lebanon has obtained the mine clearance and Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) qualifications awarded by the UN in the shortest possible time, having cleared minefields of more than 3,700 square meters with more than 850 mines disposed of. "The Chinese mine-sweeping operators are not afraid of danger and difficulties, and have always maintained a record of ‘zero accident’ and zero ‘casualties’, making outstanding contributions to maintaining the peace and stability in the southern Lebanon region," said Major General Aroldo Lázaro Sáenz, Head of Mission and Force Commander of the UNIFIL.
"Showing the demeanor of Chinese servicemen"
Going abroad, peacekeeping contingents serve as a representative of the image of China. They have to complete various tasks assigned while involved in or carrying out various activities for exchanges, with a view to displaying the demeanor of the Chinese servicemen and enhancing friendship and mutual trust with their counterparts.
Composing Chinese Spring Festival couplets, making paper-cuts for window decoration, and wrapping dumplings, Brigadier General Bruno Helluy, chief of staff of UNIFIL, and his entourage came to the Chinese camp to pay New Year's greetings to the peacekeepers on the eve of Spring Festival, and celebrate the arrival of the Chinese New Year of the Rabbit with them on the spot. After watching the performances like the dragon dance, lion dance and tea art show, Tian Yuan, deputy head of the foreign affairs unit of the multi-role engineer detachment, introduced the origin and some customs of the Spring Festival to Brigadier General Bruno. "I'm glad to experience the Chinese New Year in person on the spot," said Brigadier General Bruno. "People from different countries gather here to exchange and learn from each other. We also have an even deeper understanding of the Chinese culture."
The Chinese peacekeeping contingent and its Cambodian counterpart are the only two UNIFIL troops with mine clearance and Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) qualifications at present. For a long time, the two sides have carried out exchanges focusing on subjects including the implementation of peacekeeping missions, troop building, emergency defense, and safe and efficient mine clearance, and have visited the minefields of the other side from time to time for field research and study. On January 23, the Cambodian peacekeepers visited the camp of the Chinese peacekeeping contingent to try on the Chinese protective gears, experience mine detectors, and exchange experience in mine clearance and EOD. "We are very pleased to come to the Chinese peacekeeping camp for exchanges during the Spring Festival. Many thanks to the Chinese peacekeeping contingents for back-up to us," said Zhai Xishuo, commander of the Cambodian peacekeeping contingent, after the event.
Since arriving in the mission area, the multi-role engineer detachment has completed various forms of China-foreign military exchanges and joint exercises and training with excellence such as the Iron Storm multinational exercise and the Angel Rescue exercise. At the same time, it has vigorously carried out cultural exchanges with nearby villages, schools and friendly forces, held other activities like "Chinese Culture Festival", displaying the image and quality of the Chinese service members, and making friends with the UNIFIL friendly forces and the local people.
"Feeling the love of Chinese military doctors as relatives"
In addition to the multi-role engineer detachment, the 21st Chinese peacekeeping contingent to Lebanon also includes the construction engineer detachment and the medical detachment. The two detachments deployed at different localities in the peacekeeping mission area in southern Lebanon are responsible for many tasks such as engineering construction and construction, medical aid and humanitarian relief.
Since August in 2022, the engineer detachment has completed more than 30 construction tasks with high standards, including the fortification renovation for the UNIFIL headquarters, the fence renovation in the Nepalese camp, and the lifting and replacement of the generator set in the Malaysian camp, acting as a strong back-up force to its foreign counterparts.
From hand debridement and suture to elbow abscess removal, from refugee rescue to medicine donation, the medical detachment has provided humanitarian medical assistance such as emergency treatment and free clinics to the local people within its own capability, while providing high-quality and efficient medical support for more than 4,000 peacekeepers and employees therein.
Thirteen-year-old Abeid left Syria for Lebanon with his parents to avoid war and has been living in a village on the Lebanese-Israeli border. He got injured in a motorcycle collision when going out. Abeid's father turned to the Chinese military hospital with the medical contingent for help after his initial diagnosis and treatment in a local hospital, because he could not afford the high follow-up diagnosis and treatment expenses. After an over-10-day treatment, Abeid recovered step by step. The members of the medical detachment also sent yogurt, biscuits, bread, bedding, etc. on a special trip after learning about the miserable life of Abeid’s family. "War has displaced us and deprived us of our beloved ones, but we have felt the love of Chinese doctors like relatives. Thank you," said Abeid's father.
Since 2006, China has dispatched more than 7,000 peacekeepers to Lebanon, removed more than 15,000 mines and unexploded ordnance of various kinds, and provided medical assistance to more than 87,000 local residents, having effectively promoted the realization of UNIFIL's peacekeeping objectives. As highlighted by Aroldo Lázaro Sáenz, Head of Mission and Force Commander of the UNIFIL, China has played an important role in safeguarding world peace, and he would like to extend gratitude to China for its contribution to the United Nations peacekeeping cause in Lebanon.
"Going abroad to participate in international peacekeeping operations, I have felt a great sense of responsibility and viewed it as a glorious mission," said Yan Xiaoliang, commanding officer of the 21st Chinese peacekeeping contingent to Lebanon. “Chinese people love peace and know the value of peace. We will continue to faithfully perform the peacekeeping mission, resolutely complete the peacekeeping missions assigned, make positive contributions to safeguarding lasting peace in southern Lebanon, and safeguarding peace with practical actions."
Editor's note: Originally published on people’s.com.cn, this article is translated from Chinese into English and edited by the China Military Online.