by Julius Gale
JUBA, May 29 (Xinhua) -- The UN Mission in South Sudan on Monday applauded Chinese peacekeepers for their efforts to protect civilians and UN staff in the war-torn country despite the harsh working environment.
The 700-member Chinese infantry battalion is serving under a force of 12,000 blue helmets in the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), tasked with protection of civilians, humanitarian workers and providing security escorts and as well as patrols.
Speaking during an event to mark the International Day of UN Peacekeepers in the capital Juba, head of UNMISS David Shearer said despite working under difficult conditions, the Chinese peacekeepers with their colleagues from other countries have sacrificed their lives and time in the service of the people of South Sudan.
"Sadly, some of our colleagues have paid the ultimate price in the line of duty," Shearer said. "Last year, we lost two Chinese soldiers in the July fighting. I acknowledge them and their families for their sacrifice."
In July 2016, two Chinese peacekeepers Li Lei and Yang Shupeng died and five others injured after their vehicle was struck with a rocket-propelled grenade while guarding a refugee camp near a UN compound for displaced people.
"To our peacekeepers, I wish to express my immense gratitude to you for your professionalism, your commitment and sacrifice in the service of the people of South Sudan. You can be rightly proud of your contribution," he added.
The International Day of UN Peacekeepers is marked annually to honor and memorize people who lost their lives in service for peace.
Since UNMISS was established in 2011, 49 staff members have lost their lives while serving the Mission. In 2016, eight UNMISS staff members died in the service of peace.
South Sudan has been embroiled in more than three years of conflict that has have taken a devastating toll on the people.
A peace deal signed in August 2015 between the rival leaders under UN pressure led to the establishment of a transitional unity government in April, but was shattered by renewed fighting in July 2016.
The UN estimates that 1.5 million people have been forced into neighboring countries and another 7.5 million people across the country are in need of humanitarian assistance and protection. A localized famine was declared in February in parts of northern unity state.