Chinese troops did not 'fail' hostages in Mali hotel siege, military experts say

Accusations that peacekeepers 'failed' to rescue those caught up in Mali siege are nonsense, military experts say, as soldiers are under UN orders

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 22 November, 2015, 3:12am
UPDATED : Sunday, 22 November, 2015, 9:57am

Accusations that Chinese peacekeepers "failed" to rescue hostages in Friday's deadly hotel siege in Mali were nonsense as the only armed personnel were more than 1,000km away on the other side of the west African nation, military experts said.

As part of the United Nations peacekeeping force in the country, they could only act with authorisation from the UN command after the Mali government sought assistance, they said.

On Friday morning, an unknown number of suspected Islamist gunmen entered the lobby of the upscale Radisson Blu hotel, where a number of government departments and diplomats were based, and took 170 guests and staff hostage.

Nine hours into the siege, French, US and Malian troops stormed the hotel, killing three gunmen. Yesterday, the death toll stood at 21 hostages, including three Chinese executives.

Doubts over China's inaction arose after it was reported that French and United States commandos joined Malian troops in the rescue, but none from the nearly 400-member Chinese contingent did so, 170 of whom were armed.

Several hours after the gunmen stormed the hotel, where several government ministries and diplomats are based, American, French and Malian troops secured most of the hostages.

"Many people may not understand the international rules in responding to such emergencies. It's up to the Mali government to say how to tackle the situation," said Shanghai-based military expert Ni Lexiong .

"If the Mali government finds itself incapable of keeping the situation under control, it can ask the UN for help. The Chinese soldiers there belong to the UN peacekeeping troops and cannot act unless ordered to do so.

"Launching unauthorised action would be a violation of the host country's sovereignty," he added.

Yue Gang, a retired colonel and anti-terrorism expert, said the Chinese peacekeepers - all highly trained soldiers - were stationed 1,200km away in the north of the country.

He urged China to send more peacekeepers to Bamako following the latest attack.

"Participants in the raid included Malian, French, US troops and the UN stabilisation mission, whose strength was proven in this case. But the Chinese troops were 1,000km away," he wrote on his weibo account.

In late 2013, China for the first time sent the 170-member combat force to Mali to join the UN's international peacekeeping mission, in a major shift in Beijing's peacekeeping approach, which for two decades had focused on providing logistical and medical support.

Compared with its relatively large economic role throughout Africa, China's involvement in conflict crisis management remains modest. The deployment of combat troops to Mali does not constitute a significant change in its long-standing foreign policy, but such a deployment does highlight China's aim to strengthen its position within the UN and the body's peacekeeping operations, according to this year's annual Clingendael Report by the Netherlands Institute of International Relations.