Trouble always looms on patrol
Shao Weimin drops to one knee and pulls a pair of green rubber binoculars to his eyes. At the other end of his gaze lies the slum of Bel Air, a mishmash of concrete blocks and rusted sheet metal cut by twisting alleys and trash-strewn streets.
The neighbourhood is a bastion of support for former Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and since his ouster on February 29 it has been the epicentre of a fierce armed resistance to the interim government, led by Prime Minister Gerard Latortue.
But today, Shao Weimin and the two snipers under his command positioned on the third-storey rooftop have not seen any movement and they have heard only a few distant gunshots.
'It's so quiet this morning,' says Mr Shao, deputy commander and chief of operations for the Chinese squad serving in Haiti. 'Quiet is good, but it's still dangerous here.'
He has two more snipers on another rooftop a block away, and another dozen officers wait in two armoured personnel carriers (APCs) guarding a busy intersection near the national palace.
The Chinese officers, along with the Haitian police and other UN troops and police, are waiting for a government-approved pro-Aristide demonstration that is supposed to begin in Bel Air and make its way downtown.
The UN peacekeepers are braced for the largest anti-government protest since September 30, when a march by Aristide supporters was broken up by police, setting off a spate of violence that left dozens and possibly hundreds dead.
'You never know where they are coming from or when they might shoot at you,' says Mr Shao. 'They run across the street very quickly, shoot one or two times and run away. Or we can hear shots behind the buildings, but we never see them. I think the chimeres are just trying to disturb us. They just want the UN to know it's dangerous.'
'Chimeres' is a term used by Aristide opponents to refer to his armed supporters who in recent weeks have blocked roads, burned cars and shot in the air in busy marketplaces demanding the return of the former president from his exile in South Africa.
The police have responded by raiding slums, especially Bel Air, usually backed by UN troops. The Chinese contingent so far has played a relatively minor role in these joint operations, usually providing back-up at strategic entry-exit points to the slum, and today is no exception. According to Mr Shao, the Chinese riot police have not fired a single round since joining operations early last month.
'I prefer it that way,' says Zhu Zhi Yi, 41, a short, chubby officer holding an assault rifle as he looks out from the edge of the rooftop. 'It's better peaceful.'
It is past noon and the exposed concrete rooftop is baking under an unforgiving sun. Two Haitian policemen dressed in desert camouflage, who are posted with the Chinese officers, have apparently lost interest and moved to the shade of a concrete block wall further back from the edge of the roof. Two APCs rumble up the street from the direction of Bel Air, and the Brazilian marines riding in them give thumbs up to the rooftop snipers. A UN helicopter thumps overhead.
With nothing happening in Bel Air, Mr Shao descends a dark staircase to the street below and climbs into his patrol vehicle. He drives cautiously to the two APCs. Inside one of them, half a dozen officers are piled in like sardines.
Mr Shao motions to his SUV. He has just heard news from Bel Air over his walkie-talkie. Rushing back to the rooftop, he finds the leaders of a platoon of Jordanian troops who have come up from their position in an APC on the street below.
The Chinese snipers say they spotted 200 men run across a plaza a few hundred metres away. No weapons were seen, and the group of men does not reappear.
The excitement soon dissipates. From the sweltering rooftop, Mr Shao muses about Haiti's problems. 'The best thing to do here is economic development. Make people rich so they won't fight against the government anymore,' he says.
When asked whether this is happening with the help of the UN peacekeeping mission, he laughs.
'Look at this development,' he says in jest, waving his hand at the sprawling greyish slum below before heading back down the stairs to his SUV.