The first detachment of 144 peacekeepers of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) have arrived in the South Sudanese capital Juba in preparation for their deployment with the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).
The officers, who arrived on February 27, are leading a full-strength deployment of the PLA’s first full infantry battalion to be deployed in external operations. In addition to the engineering, transportation, guard and medical units that contributed to previous UN missions, the PLA force in South Sudan includes specialists in mechanized infantry, construction technicians and specialists in hydro-electric power engineering.
A statement posted on the website of the Chinese Ministry of National Defence said the members of the battalion are well-trained enough to operate within the unpredictable security environment of war torn South Sudan.
“Members of this battalion are well-chosen and all of them are professional. Their skills cover hydroelectric, barracks, infantry, mechanization infantry, engineering and others. They are skilful enough to manage any case of emergency that might happen in South Sudan’s complex security situation,” the statement said.
Among other roles, the PLA contingent will be assigned to the protection of civilians and UN personnel and facilities. It will also conduct area patrols, humanitarian rescue operations and help the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) of East Africa to carry out its ceasefire supervisory and inspection missions.
The IGAD missions are essential to ensure that warring parties comply with the dictates of the several peace agreement signed since war broke out between President Salvar Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar.
The remaining 520 PLA soldiers will be deployed to South Sudan as soon as their new peacekeeping camp site in Juba is ready for occupation. There are already 36 Chinese troops in South Sudan as part of an advance party that arrived in January.
Among the troops set for deployment, 43 have peacekeeping experience, 437 are from advanced operational companies, 131 had been awarded third class medals while 13 women from the combat infantry squad are being deployed to a peacekeeping mission for the first time.
The PLA UNMISS force will be heavily armed with weapons which include unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs), armoured personnel carriers (APCs), anti-tank rocket systems and mortars. The Chinese government said all the weapons will be used exclusively for self-defence.
Conflict in South Sudan erupted in December 2013 after months of intra-party political tensions within the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) pitting President Salva Kiir against his former deputy Riek Machar, who was sacked from the government.
The conflict has reopened deep tensions among ethnic groups, pitting Kiir’s Dinka against Machar’s Nuer. A new peace deal signed between the two sides in Kenya last month seems to be largely holding although there are sporadic reports of fighting between the two sides. However, there are reports the two sides have taken advantage of the lull in fighting to re-arm.
More than 2 000 Chinese peacekeepers drawn from the engineering, medical, transport and guard units are currently on assignment in global conflict zones including Mali. Additional PLA troops from the medical corps have also been deployed to help tackle the Ebola health crisis in West Africa.