by Xinhua Writers Liu Shun, Wang Haiqing, Chang Yuan
BEIRUT/BEIJING, Jan. 21 (Xinhua) -- Chinese military officer Peng Shoucong is probably one of the most recognized foreign faces in Lebanese villages near the notoriously dangerous Blue Line -- a UN-controlled demarcation line between Lebanon and Israel.
He was among the first batch of Chinese peacekeepers deployed in Southern Lebanon in the wake of the Israel-Lebanon war in 2006, and now he is serving for the fifth time in the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) as the vice-captain of the multi-task engineers' unit of the Chinese camp.
Trained as an explosive disposal engineer, Peng said his time in Lebanon has plenty of "heart in the throat" moments.
One of his perilous tasks once involved incapacitating a 2,000-pound aerial bomb dropped into a village near the Chinese camp. "There were civilian houses nearby, and also an oil storage, so we decided to dig with our own hands instead of using mechanical devices," Peng said.
Peng's team dug some 15 meters deep into the ground before they found the bomb and deactivated it.
Chinese peacekeepers also responded to pleas of local farmers to clear landmines or cluster bombs in their orchards. Agriculture is the only source of income for many villages in Southern Lebanon, but many farmers have no choice but to abandon their land because unexploded ordnance makes farming a life-threatening business.
Local villagers are especially grateful that the Chinese peacekeepers have risked their own lives to demine contaminated farms and orchards.
A more regular battleground for the Chinese military engineers, however, is the mine fields along the Blue Line.
Peng said the mine disposal team set off for the Blue Line mine fields at 6:00 in the morning on a typical working day and spend hours scouring mine-contaminated land.
In the past 10 years, Chinese peacekeepers have disposed of tens of thousands of landmines and unexploded bombs and extended the mine-free area near the Blue Line by some 2 million square meters, winning the reputation as the most efficient mine disposal team in UNIFIL.
Aside from the huge undertaking in the mine fields, Chinese peacekeepers have also actively taken part in mine awareness campaigns, teaching pupils and farmers basics about how to avoid such dangers.
Mine clearance was once the single most important mission for Chinese peacekeepers deployed in Southern Lebanon, but their task portfolio grew after China sent military medics and builders to join the UNIFIL in efforts to support UN operations and better serve local needs.
The hospital operated entirely by Chinese peacekeeping medics has won praise from top commanders of the UNIFIL as well as local residents. Over the past few years, thousands of UNIFIL officers and soldiers have received treatment in the Chinese hospital. Many local residents have also been successfully treated by Chinese medical experts.
The Chinese peacekeepers also help make daily life easier for locals by building new roads and dredging rivers.
With more Syrian refugees coming to the area, the Chinese peacekeepers have also volunteered to help with water supply for refugee camps.
Peng, who has spent more than 40 months in Lebanon, said that local residents have their own way of saying thanks to Chinese peacekeepers: At the Eid al-Fitr festival or during the harvest season, the Chinese camp would always receive specialty food or baskets of fresh produce as gifts.
"These seasonal gifts from the locals are as important for us as the honors and badges awarded by the United Nations," the five-time peacekeeper in Lebanon said.
According to China's Defense Ministry, the country began in 1990 to take part in the UN peacekeeping mission in the Middle East, and has participated in 11 such missions in the region ever since.
Currently there are some 1,700 Chinese peacekeepers in the Middle East, fulfilling a wide range of non-combat tasks.
The accumulative number of Chinese peacekeepers deployed in Lebanon and other parts of the Middle East has so far surpassed 15,000.
China, already the top contributor of peacekeeping forces among the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, is preparing to make even bigger contributions to UN peacekeeping missions in the Middle East and elsewhere.
As Chinese President Xi Jinping, announced at the UN headquarters last September, China will set up a permanent peacekeeping police squad and build a peacekeeping standby force of 8,000 troops.
The country is also considering sending more engineering, transportation and medical personnel to join UN peacekeeping missions, and will train 2,000 foreign peacekeepers and carry out 10 mine-sweeping assistance programs in the next five years.
"China's global influence has grown in recent years, so is our responsibility in upholding world peace," Peng said. "My hope is that, with concerted efforts by all peacekeeping teams under the UN, those people who have been living under the shadow of war could enjoy lasting peace soon."
President Xi's visit, starting on Tuesday, to Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Iran is set to highlight China's constructive role in promoting peace and development in the Middle East.