Haiti mission tests peacekeepers' grit

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 30 September, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 30 September, 2004, 12:00am

Housed in the dirtiest of UN camps, the troops find isolation is hardest to bear

The Chinese riot police sent to Haiti on a peacekeeping mission are operating under worse circumstances than other United Nations forces in the troubled Caribbean nation.

'It's fair to say that the camps where China's riot police are stationed rank as the dirtiest of all those used by UN peacekeepers,' said Shao Weiming , who led an advance team of 30 officers to the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, less than two weeks ago.

But despite the poor conditions, Mr Shao told Xinhua that the central government felt obliged to accept the arrangements.

This is the first time that China has contributed to a UN peacekeeping mission in the western hemisphere.

The officers were put up at an abandoned warehouse on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince after they arrived on September 18. Their main task now is to set up a camp near the capital's international airport for the main contingent of 95 officers before they arrive next month.

'We have to level the ground, put up fences, set up barracks and arrange all sorts of support before the main force arrives,' Mr Shao said.

'Haiti - which has just been hit by a very big storm - is a poor country and has been in turmoil for a long time. We can't expect the local government to give us any assistance.

'Luckily, we have received supplies like building materials and food from China. Otherwise we would not be able to do anything.'

Mr Shao described the situation outside the main camp as very complicated, with widespread crime and anti-government forces on the rampage. People's living conditions were equally appalling.

'They have no electricity, no water, no mosquito nets - don't even mention telephones.'

Mr Shao said the advance force was using power generators brought in from China, but could barely find any food in the markets. However, the officers' biggest headache was the isolation.

'We haven't got a telephone or a television. Although we have laptop computers, we cannot get an internet connection,' he said. 'Being far away from home and not being able to communicate with your family can be very depressing.'

Because the riot police are based in Port-au-Prince, they were spared the onslaught of Tropical Storm Jeanne which wrecked havoc in northwestern Haiti at the weekend, leaving more than 1,500 dead and hundreds more missing.

Some peacekeeping forces have been assigned to assist the storm-ravaged areas, but Mr Shao said the Chinese officers were not among them.