Chinese "blue helmets" pave peace paths along Lebanon-Israel border

China Military Online
Zhang Tao
A peacekeeper assigned to the 16th Chinese peacekeeping multifunctional engineer detachment to Lebanon conducts mine-sweeping training.

By Zhang Xiaoqi and Pang Qingjie

BEIJING, Aug.16 (ChinaMil) -- When arriving in Lebanon, we were confused for a while. How can this beautiful resort by the Mediterranean Sea be the "powder keg in the Middle East"?

But as we drove from the Beirut airport to the south, what we saw gradually gave us a clearer idea of the true Lebanon.

Along the coast of the azure Mediterranean Sea, posters of political figures were everywhere, red-and-white road blocks were set all the way by government troops, and houses destroyed in the Lebanon War 11 years ago could still be seen.

Yes, this is Lebanon. It's beautiful, but fragile.

"It looks peaceful, but there are strong undercurrents," said Huang Yun, commander of the 16th Chinese peacekeeping force to Lebanon.

According to Huang, there are a lot of parties and even more than ten religious forces, leading to constant conflicts in Lebanon, and the social environment is extremely complicated because of the intertwining of eastern and western cultures.

In the two days we stayed at the barracks of Chinese peacekeepers, gunshots in nearby villages were often heard. Huang explained that it was the Hezbollah holding memorial ceremonies for their members who died fighting the IS in Syria.

"It's common to hear gunshots. They shoot to the sky when they feel happy or sad," Huang said.

On the second day, we followed the mine-sweeping unit of the multifunction engineer detachment to carry out the task of safeguarding safe passage on the "blue line".

Before leaving the barracks, we were told not to carry any photography equipment because Israel is very sensitive about this. The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon(UNIFIL) will complete their mission on August 31, so the situation on the "blue line" is in subtle balance.

The "blue line" is a 121-kilometer temporary demarcation line delimited by the UN in 2000 on the border between Lebanon and Israel. The "blue barrels" erected among the peaks constitute the "peace coordinates" between the two countries.

The photo features a "Blue Barrel" model in the barracks of the 16th Chinese peacekeeping force to Lebanon.

But the area close to the "blue line" is also a "death zone" with hundreds of thousands of landmines, earning the area the reputation as the "mini museum of landmines" and making it one of the areas in the world with the largest diversity and number of landmines.

An important task of the Chinese peacekeepers in Lebanon is to blaze out a safe passage for setting up the "blue barrels".

Mine sweeping is always referred to as "dancing on blade".

In the past 11 years, Chinese peacekeepers have discovered and removed nearly 10,000 landmines accumulatively, creating the outstanding performance of "most mines cleared at the highest speed with zero casualty and accident".

Thus, the so-called "China-style mine sweeping" has become a pronoun for efficient work among the UNIFIL.

Li Wenbin, head of a mine-sweeping team of the multifunctional engineer detachment, told us that the passage is usually two meters wide with the length varying from hundreds of meters to one or two thousand meters depending on the terrain.

Near the "blue line", we saw skeleton signs hanging on the wire net by the two sides of the passage, a peacekeeper told us landmines were laid behind the net.

"Mine sweeping is just like archaeological work. You have to dig little by little, proceed inch by inch. It is a dangerous process in which every step is closely linked with the next", Li Wenbin said, "when we cut grass in this area, we have to cut the grass one by one and no more than 20cm each time, until the grass is 5cm above ground."

Chinese peacekeepers have the patience to preserve peace. This was the fourth time that Yang Jian, the mine-sweeping supervisor, carried out peacekeeping mission in Lebanon. When carrying out the peacekeeping mission here in 2010, he, as head of a mine-sweeping team, spent eight months blazing out a safe passage and ensured its absolute safety.

Chinese peacekeepers have the capability to preserve peace. Wang Wanbing, head of another mine-sweeping team who was also in Lebanon for the fourth time, told us that when blazing the path, peacekeepers from other countries could only proceed for about 20cm a day, but Chinese peacekeepers could move forward by 20m a day at most. An UN officer joked with him that "you should move slower, otherwise I'll be out of job."

It is with this kind of professionalism and boldness that Chinese "blue helmets" paved the paths of peace along the Lebanon-Israel border.

A sentence on the wall of the barracks struck me deeply - every step you take is a matter of life and death; every footprint you leave leads to peace.

Lebanon and Israel still have deep conflicts, and peace is still far away here, but no matter how long the journey is, one will always get to the destination as long as he or she keeps going.

Chinese "blue helmets" are here for peace, and they will stand resolute and firm to keep peace.


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