Part I: “Negotiators” in South Sudan

Source: Pano feed

PANO – The presence of the UN peacekeepers wearing their iconic green berets in conflict-ridden areas worldwide has been very common. However, not everyone knows detailed tasks undertaken by a peacekeeper. Reporter of the People’s Army Newspaper had talks with two Vietnamese officers who are taking part in the UN Mission (UNMISS) in South Sudan – the world’s newest country.

Multi-functional peacekeepers

Two Vietnamese officers Lieutenant Colonel Mac Duc Trong and Tran Nam Ngan only lived together in a short time before conducting missions in different areas.

Particularly, Lieutenant Colonel Tran Nam Ngan is stationed in an UNMISS base in Jonglei state in the Northern part of South Sudan while Lieutenant Colonel Mac Duc Trong is assigned to Melut in the Upper Nile state of the country.

Because of the thousand kilometre-distance between their bases, the two officers could only keep in touch via the Internet and telephones. Rarely, they could be face to face while going off on missions through their areas.

In theory, they are liaison officers but actually, the Vietnamese officers and other UN peacekeepers have to participate in almost all UN works in localities where they are garrisoned, especially in protecting locals from conflicts.

Lieutenant Colonel Tran Nam Ngan (standing third from right) in a meeting with local leaders and people

Lieutenant Colonel Tran Nam Ngan (standing third from right) in a meeting with local leaders and people

The liaison officers serve as a bridge between the UNMISS and the Government’s troops, forces of the opposition or militia. At times, they are in charge of supporting international and humanitarian organizations in carrying out relief work, monitoring ceasefires, patrolling and collecting information for the UNMISS.

These tasks sound normal for someone but are not simple for UN peacekeepers in South Sudan. Here, they are likely “negotiators” in order to remain neutral stance of all sides – one of the leading principles of the UNMISS. They would have daily meetings with leaders of both forces of the Government and the opposition forces.

Particularly, they have faced challenges in holding talks with commanders of local militia of various ethnic minority groups who had established their own armed forces to protect their members from conflicts, because of other parties’ suspicion.

Even forces of the Government and the opposition have doubts about the UN mission because they have no proper understating of the UN peacekeepers’ functions and tasks in South Sudan. They even suspected that the UN is biased or conducting military reconnaissance missions for the opponents.

UNMISS’ “ears and eyes”

Daily work of the UN peacekeepers is to patrol and grasp local conditions to inform their higher levels, meet with province chiefs to sharing information and discuss cooperation on humanitarian activities, and get information on crimes from local police. Thus, they are considered “ears and eyes” of the UNMISS.

In case of conflicts, the UN peacekeepers have to contact warring parties by all means to grasp the hostilities, including information on local people. When the situation calmed down, they would rush to the scene to collect evidences and eyewitness testimony for further investigation.

Hence, Lieutenant Colonel Tran Nam Ngan shared that UN liaison officers like him should hone their patience; be friendly, open-minded and flexible; have a thorough understanding of partners; and have good communication skills. In addition, they also understand the cultural identities of each side because South Sudan is a multi-ethnic country with multi-ethnic diversities.

A quite frequent mission of the UN liaison officers in South Sudan is to escort cargos of the UN and food and relief aid of the World Food Program (WFP) on mainland roads and waterways. On the way to gathering places, liaison officers are the first ones to deal with problems in any circumstances, especially relating to parties’ military forces.

As a whole, daily work of a liaison officer is diversified, depending on the situations of hostility or specific tasks in their stationing areas.

As for Lieutenant Colonel Tran Nam Ngan, since January 2015, he has served as Head of a board in charge of providing initial training courses for newly-assigned liaison officers.

Unforgettable experiences

Though the acreage of South Sudan is triple than that of Vietnam, this African country has only 60 kilometres of asphalted roads. The remaining is pathways which can be used in the four-month dry season.

In rainy season, high water prompts street closures. People have to travel and transport goods by air and by ships. However, these two means of transportation also depend on security situations. Armed bandits usually attack supply inadequately protected convoys as South Sudanese police and soldiers neglect their duties because of delayed wage. Armed attacks on UN’s convoys by bandits are the same old stories in South Sudan.

Besides, trucks’ engine failures due to inundated roads are the common practice. If it happens in desolate localities, they have to ring up the UNMISS for support. The majority of people are here fled from the war. Among them, over one million are living in the UN’s refugee camps.

However, Lieutenant Colonel Mac Duc Trong shared that driving cars on terrible and inundated roads in the rain season in South Sudan was also an interesting experience for him. In Vietnam, he sometimes joined off-road tourneys with friends. Meanwhile, his daily mission in South Sudan is to drive cars on terrain like this.

In addition, seeing daily life activities of tribes and beautiful wild animal protection parks along the Nile River while operating on ships has brought the Vietnamese officer unforgettable memories.

Reported by My Hanh Translated by Van Hieu

Đăng ký: VietNam News