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As bullets fly, police savour value of peace
By Li Wenfang (China Daily)
Updated: 2006-03-03 06:08

GUANGZHOU: Mao Rongfeng had not expected to have an urgent need to grow vegetables in Haiti until he arrived there to lead the logistics division of the peacekeeping force from South China's Guangdong Province.

"We decided to grow vegetables after some of us suffered ulcers in the mouth because of the low vegetable supply," Mao said in an interview with China Daily, recalling the eight-month mission which ended last December. He lost 4 kilograms in his first 12 days in the Caribbean island country.

The 125 members of the riot police force, all from Guangdong and comprising a police unit, also found electric fly swatters useful.

The mission "posed a challenge to our way of life and even our own lives," said Peng Yunfei, commander of the force.

Peng and his teammates made up part of the force carrying out the United Nations (UN) peacekeeping mission to stabilize Haiti, which had been racked by violence since former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide was ousted in February 2004.

A total of 7,519 troops and 1,776 police were deployed in Haiti, supported by 455 foreign civilians, 516 local civilians and 161 UN volunteers at the end of January, the UN's website said.

Desperately slow Internet connections, the threat of dengue fever and living in abandoned warehouses were nothing compared with the violence. The country is said to be second only to Iraq in terms of the degree of danger.

"Unexpected gunshots could come any time, with 40,000 to 50,000 guns in the hands of local people," Peng said. The force had been to all the most dangerous spots in Haiti, including Cite Soleil, where gun battles between peacekeepers and gangs took place almost every day.

In one case, bullets flew overhead and hit the walls 2 metres ahead of a team involved in an operation, said Ma Weiling, another chief officer of the peace force.

Once, fierce crossfire broke out between two groups of locals outside the encampment of the force in Port-au-Prince, Haiti's capital, posing a severe threat to the security of the encampment, Ma said.

Li Tongde, one of the peacekeepers, said he always sent pictures of him in good shape to his wife back home, hoping to lessen her worries.

In the eight months, the force participated in nearly 50 rapid-response operations, stopped nine robberies on the spot and rescued 13 hostages. Fortunately, none of the 125 Chinese peacekeepers suffered any serious injuries.

Twelve soldiers, three civilian police officers and two civilians from other countries, however, have been killed in the Haiti mission since June 2004, the United Nations said. None of them was Chinese.

Emphasis on standardizing actions was important in ensuring the security of the peacekeepers, Ma said.

The force made detailed plans for all types of actions for the members and careful assessments beforehand.

None of the 125 members except a woman officer had been to a peacekeeping mission previously, although they all received three months of special training in China before passing the evaluation.

Communication with local people also helped build a friendly environment, Peng said. The peace force sponsored three major donations, including those to some local schools, at the encampment. On "open house?day, some locals were even invited to try on the outfits of the Chinese peacekeepers.

"We wished to convey the message that we were there to keep peace and that China is a responsible country,?Peng said.

The interaction with the locals also helped ensure the security of the peacemakers, he said.

But it wasn't always serious. There were lighter moments in Haiti, too, Ma recalled.

Among them were a badminton contest with Canadian colleagues, a visit by colleagues from Guangdong, observing the Moon Festival, and video telephoning with families and colleagues back in China.

The activities helped ease the pressure on the force members, Ma said.

The most touching moment, Peng recalled, was a ceremony staged by the United Nations to present medals to all the Chinese peacekeepers.

"I thought of all the support I had received and that I was standing there, representing my country," Peng said.

Having been through dangerous and tough days, the peacekeepers said they could from now on handle difficulties and frustration in their lives back in China with greater ease. They also enhanced their teamwork spirit.

The mission in Haiti, they said, set a foundation for the peace forces from various countries to learn from one another in police training, management and other fields.

"Our confidence in ourselves grew in the exchange with foreign counterparts,?Peng said.

Their experience as peacekeepers also enriched their understanding of peace.

"Haiti used to have its own glory in the history but has been plagued by poverty, high illiteracy and frequent political coups,?Peng said.

Ma said: "Haiti by itself is a beautiful place but was in a violent state. Stability is absolutely important to a country."

(China Daily 03/03/2006 page1)

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