A battalion of 700 Chinese soldiers will deploy in South Sudan soon to boost the current U.N. peacekeeper force of about 10,000 in the country, the U.N. Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) said Thursday.
The deployment is the first-ever of a Chinese infantry battalion to a U.N. peacekeeping mission, UNMISS said. There are already around 350 non-combat personnel from China, including engineers and medics, at the U.N. base in Western Bahr el Ghazal.
Although there has been speculation that the Chinese troops would focus on protecting Chinese business interests in South Sudan, particularly in oil, UNMISS said the battalion will be based in Juba and will focus on protecting displaced civilians living in or near one of the U.N. camps in the capital.
The Chinese troops will also patrol the streets of Juba, escort humanitarian relief supplies to people in need, and guard U.N. assets, UNMISS said.
The Chinese troops are part of a military surge authorized by the U.N. Security council, nine days after fighting erupted in Juba on December 15, 2013. The Security Council voted then to boost the number of military peacekeepers in South Sudan from 7,000 to a maximum of 12,500.
A U.N. tally of peacekeeping operations around the world shows that, as of Dec. 31 last year, there were 10,251 troops serving with UNMISS.
UNMISS did not say exactly when the Chinese peacekeepers are expected to arrive in Juba, but referred to their deployment as "pending."
UNMISS made the announcement about the Chinese deployment days after China mediated talks between South Sudan's warring factions and won pledges from the rival sides to speed up the country's peace process.
At least 10,000 people have died and around 1.5 million have been internally displaced since fighting broke out 13 months ago between soldiers loyal to President Salva Kiir and thos who support his former vice president, Riek Machar.