Spreading the peace-loving spirit

Vietnamese blue beret officers and soldiers who are currently working at two missions in Africa are celebrating this year’s Tet (Lunar New Year) Festival away from home in an unstable and complicated security situation. However, in a far-away country, under the flying red flag with yellow star, each professional and community activity contributes to sowing the hope for a better life for the African people.
Vietnamese soldiers are providing medical examination in Abyei. (Photo: Vietnam Department of Peacekeeping Operations)
Vietnamese soldiers are providing medical examination in Abyei. (Photo: Vietnam Department of Peacekeeping Operations)

Lớp The affection of the local people and soldiers in the country, nearly 10,000 km away from the Fatherland.

At the United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA), members of the peacekeeping force split shifts for internet use according to odd and even times. In addition, the security situation is unstable, and the facilities are still challenging. Like many other members of the peacekeeping force, Professional Major Vu Anh Duc, a physician at the Level 1 Field Hospital under the Engineering Unit Rotation No.2 in Abyei, has always made an effort to participate in the unit's humanitarian activities. In 2021, he completed his term at Hospital 2.2 at the UN Mission in Bentiu, South Sudan. In August 2023, Duc continued to be assigned to the UNISFA.

Participating in two missions in Africa, the blue beret soldiers’ sentiments towards the sunny and windy land have become deeper. At the end of the working day, taking advantage of the "internet shift", Duc said he had just participated in a medical examination and distribution at the Abyei centre. “Many local people, from the elderly to children who are not subject to the examination, also came to ask for medicine. They really need assistance because the local hospital does not have good facilities and the prices are very expensive”. The story about life in Abyei became even more touching when Duc talked about the many cases facing difficulties. “The Engineering Unit Rotation is carrying out many activities to distribute medicine and provide humanitarian assistance here,” Duc added.

During the last days of the past year, the Engineering Unit Rotation still took advantage of the weekend to level and levigate the yard of Comboni Secondary School in Abyei. Vietnamese blue beret members enthusiastically and energetically participated in surveying, repairing, and building roads for administrative and residential areas, as well as repairing boats for the people of Mijak Village in Abyei. Each activity took place with the enthusiastic response of the people. The bright smiles of blue berets and the fluttering red flag with its yellow star have highlighted friendship in the African land which is nearly 10,000 km away from the Fatherland of Vietnam.

The reason for the affection between the soldiers and people regardless of skin colour and geographical distance may be the perspective of the peacekeeping force's approach to local communities that is closely tied to the traditions and identity of the Vietnamese people’s army. Previously, the humanitarian activities of the Engineering Unit Rotation No.1 were assessed by the Mission’s commander as “changing the face of Abyei”. Inheriting the experience of Engineering Unit Rotation No.1, Engineering Unit Rotation No.2 has continued to maintain the provision of clean water, medical examination, and medicine; support for agricultural activities; and the repair of roads, furniture, boats, etc. Major Nguyen Mau Vu, Political Commissar of the Engineering Unit Rotation No.2, said: “All these activities demonstrate the nature and good traditions of the army “of the people, by the people and for the people” as well as the spirit of “helping friends is helping ourselves”. More than anyone else, the Vietnamese peacekeeping force has a clear understanding of that. As such, during the process of performing tasks at the mission, we have been always attaching importance to organising humanitarian activities and helping the local government and people to the best of their ability.”

The spirit of solidarity and assistance together

There are many units from other countries participating in peacekeeping activities, but the Vietnamese unit’s practical projects have contributed to creating a unique impression, thus helping the Vietnamese blue beret force be loved by the local people. They have felt sincere assistance and humanitarian activities have consolidated the locals’ trust in the Vietnamese peacekeeping force.

The Vietnam Women's Museum are keeping many souvenirs given by female blue beret soldiers that are associated with their memories when they were performing their duties. In particular, there is a sewing machine that helped Lieutenant Colonel Nguyen Thi Lien sew hundreds of cloth face masks for the unit’s soldiers and presented them for other units during the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak in South Sudan. Remembering her first participation in the female engineering team in Abyei, Lieutenant Colonel Lien said: “Meeting with young female soldiers, I also shared about our living conditions, homesickness, and hardships related to health and physical strength as well as suggested popular mobilisation activities that can be carried out in accordance with the regulations at the Mission”. Thanks to the real combat experience from the “pioneers” and efforts like her’s to fulfil assigned tasks, female soldiers have strengthened the locals’ trust and made better preparations.

Vietnamese soldiers are repairing boats for Mijak villagers. (Photo: Vietnam Department of Peacekeeping Operations)

Vietnamese soldiers are repairing boats for Mijak villagers. (Photo: Vietnam Department of Peacekeeping Operations)

Vietnam is one of the leading countries in women’s participation in peacekeeping activities at 16%, about 10% higher than other countries. “Female soldiers in the Vietnam People’s Army are always ready to participate in peacekeeping missions, not afraid of difficulties and sufferings, with the aspiration to surpass all challenges,” Lien added. Her sharing displays the determination of female blue beret soldiers that were proven through bravery and practical missions at the UNMISS and UNISFA Missions.

Missions are performed with new spirit

The professional activities and humanitarian work of Vietnam's blue berets have created a special impression and affection with local people as well as the sympathy of international colleagues, affirming their "brand" over nearly past 10 years. In May 2014, the Vietnam Peacekeeping Centre (now the Vietnam Department of Peacekeeping Operations – VDPO) dispatched the first two Vietnam People's Army officers to serve as liaison officers at UNMISS. So far, Vietnam has sent nearly 800 professional officers and soldiers to carry out UN peacekeeping tasks in both individual and unit forms at the two missions in Africa and the UN headquarters. These are the efforts of the forces participating in peacekeeping activities with high professional capacity, discipline and professionalism.

Many international experts expressed their impression at Vietnam's peacekeeping activities. UN Deputy Secretary General Jean-Pierre Lacroix once noted that the comprehensive activities of Vietnam's UN peacekeeping units, including the Engineering Unit Rotation at the UNISFA in Abyei and the Level-2 Field Hospital No. 4 at the UNMISS in South Sudan, are the model that most comprehensively meets the UN's expectations”. With that trust, Vietnam’s Engineering Unit Rotation is the first military engineering unit of the UN assigned to pilot the construction of a smart camp. This new UN initiative aims to increase the effectiveness and quality of the peacekeeping force’s operations in the local field.

Having spent four years working in Vietnam, Lieutenant General Mohan Subramanian, Commander of the Military Forces of the UNMISS Mission, visited and worked at the Field Hospital 2.5 in Bentiu, South Sudan, in December 2023. He seemed to relive his many memories of the S-shaped land when enjoying pure Vietnamese coffee, reading books about President Ho Chi Minh, and being impressed with the Vietnamese Ao Dai (traditional Vietnamese long dress) in the distant country of South Sudan. The Lieutenant General acknowledged that the activities supporting the government and people have left good impressions, contributing to changing the base area. On this occasion, the Mission Commander honoured Senior Lieutenant Nguyen Thi Thanh Hang, a technician of Field Hospital 2.5, along with the great contributions of female soldiers working at the hospital.

Nearly 10 years since the first field missions were performed, Vietnam’s blue berets have made a significant impression on the local people and international colleagues. With proven bravery and practice, the peacekeeping force is ready to enter a new phase with a new mindset and perform tasks in a more professional manner while contributing to spreading the image of a peaceful and dynamic Vietnam which is always ready to contribute to the common work of the UN for peace, security, and development.