By Li Jinyong, commander of China’s first peacekeeping contingent overseas
From April 1992 to February 1993, I had been the commander of the first Chinese peacekeeping engineering battalion to Cambodia as part of the UN peacekeeping operations. Our mission in Cambodia was the first time for PLA to send completely formed units to participate in UN peacekeeping missions.
After we arrived in Cambodia, we were too swamped by work to be homesick. I remembered that one time, a driver and I drove to Skuon, a town about 100km north of Phnom Penh, to choose a site to build barracks. Days of travel and work exhausted us so badly that we both fell asleep and the car dashed into farmland by the road. Luckily, we didn’t get hurt.
As for what we had done during the mission period, recovering the bridge on No.4 Highway was undoubtedly an impressing one. The 220km No.4 Highway was an important passage connecting Sihanoukville Port and Phnom Penh. Due to wars and long years’ lack of maintenance, the six steel bridges on the broad were almost completely damaged.
We dispatched a 50-member detachment to the construction site in late June 1992 and completed all construction work just within six days. Our high efficiency shocked all the parties, and the miracle that Chinese peacekeeping engineers were able to build a bridge in one day had also been widely spread since then.
However, what I remember most was recovering the No.4 bridge on the No.6 Highway. The road was also an important passage connecting Phnom Penh and Kampong Thom Province in central Cambodia, and the No.4 bridge was located about 20km north of Skuon.
On October 14, 1992, I was informed by our forward command in Skuon that an intense battle happened near the bridge early that morning, and the militants bombed the bridge. I immediately ordered all troops in Skuon to retreat into the barracks until further noticed. On the afternoon that day, I received order from the Transitional Authority’s commander to recover the bridge as soon as possible.
On the morning of October 17, something dangerous happened. Our soldiers found a lot of explosives in the abutment while clearing the construction site. Deputy combat chief Huang Jingzhong and commander of the second squadron Wang Ruijun volunteered to clear the explosives. They removed 250kg TNT, 26 primers, and 8m detonating fuse after working for over an hour. The construction site was safe again.
When equipment and supplies were shipped to the site at noon on October 19, we began assembling the bridge immediately and got the job done the next morning. Seeing the new steel-framed bridge, the engineering director of the UN Transitional Authority in Cambodia kept exclaiming “miracle” and called Chinese peacekeeping engineers “bravo”.
For more than 300 days, our battalion carried out peacekeeping missions in Cambodia during which we overcame all kinds of difficulties and completed all tasks with flying colors. We recovered over 320km road and built 23 bridges, ensuring smooth transportation in the Sihanoukville Port-Phnom Penh-Kampong Thom Province section, which was extensively applauded by the Cambodian people, UN Transitional Authority, and the international community. As Yasushi Akashi, former Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General, has said, “the UN Transitional Authority in Cambodia wouldn’t have completed its mission without Chinese peacekeeping engineers.”