Việt Nam has sent a total of 180 military officers and staff from the Ministry of National Defence to join United Nations peacekeeping missions in the Central African Republic, South Sudan and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations at the United Nations (UN) headquarters in New York, US, since 2014.
Major General Hoàng Kim Phụng, Director of the Việt Nam Department of Peacekeeping Operations talks to Vân Nguyễn & Kiều Trinh about the country’s commitments in peacekeeping operations and its preparation for the new team of military staff to be dispatched early this year during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Major General Hoàng Kim Phụng, Director of the Việt Nam Department of Peacekeeping Operations. — VNS Photo Vân Nguyễn
What is the role of peacekeepers in Việt Nam’s defence and foreign policy?
Sending troops to join United Nations’ peacekeeping missions is a new task assigned to the Department of Peace Keeping Mission. This is not only a military task but also a responsibility of Việt Nam to the international community as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council and a member of the UN.
We have performed our duties and our work has been recognised by the international community. They want to hear the voice of Việt Nam and see our engagements in the UN’s peacekeeping operations. This is an opportunity for us to perform our duties and for Vietnamese culture to be widely known by international friends.
Our country has complete peace now and we have better chance to perform our duties with countries, especially African and Latin American nations, which supported us in the wars to liberate our country and protect our peace. These countries are yet to have peace and are still suffering from the consequences of the conflicts and non-traditional challenges. They are desperate for the support from the international community. The presence of Việt Nam in humanitarian activities including military medical operations, engineers, military observation showed our support for the eight millennium goals that UN set to achieve.
The peacekeeping task also helps to enhance Việt Nam’s image, and express the aspirations of Uncle Hồ when he sent a letter to the UN in 1946, expressing his wish that Việt Nam would become a member of the UN. Việt Nam is now a member of the UN providing significant contributions that have been recognised by the international community.
In the international integration process, sending troops to join the UN’s peacekeeping operations helps us ensure security and safety, and contribute to the handling of consequences of non-traditional challenges, among others.
Has the COVID-19 pandemic affected Việt Nam’s plan to dispatch military officers and staff to join the UN’s peacekeeping operations?
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage in South Sudan, the Central African Republic and other poor African countries. This has been a great challenge for us. However, it is our commitment with the UN that we would continue to dispatch troops and continue the operation of level-2 field hospital in South Sudan.
This is a political commitment Việt Nam has made with the UN. The UN Security Council has recently voted to extend the UN peacekeeping missions in South Sudan and asked Việt Nam to maintain the operation of the field hospital for another five years. This urged Việt Nam to make good preparation to fulfil its commitments.
This is also an opportunity for Việt Nam to affirm its responsible commitments and prove that it has a road map to perform its duties with the UN, humankind and especially African countries no matter what circumstances.
There have been a lot of difficulties but our military doctors have been provided with more training to update themselves with knowledge and experience in pandemic prevention and control.
Some patients suspected of contracting COVID-19 have been treated at our field hospital in South Sudan. Through online meetings and training from the Việt Nam Military Medical University and 175 Hospital, our staff carried out measures that were implemented in Việt Nam. Initially, local residents misunderstood that Vietnamese staff wore face masks because they were infected with COVID-19 but later on, measures taken by Vietnamese soldiers have been followed by others to prevent the spread of the virus.
Officers and soldiers who are about to set off for South Sudan have been vaccinated against COVID-19. How has the pandemic changed the way you prepare for the missions?
We have prepared scenarios for even more challenging situations like Ebola, HIV and other contagious diseases in Africa.
All the measures we take aim to ensure the safety of our soldiers and others during the procedures at hospital. There are changes in preparing medicine and medical supplies. All doctors and staff deployed this time are vaccinated before leaving. Those who haven’t had two shots will have their second shot in the host country. We prepare very carefully and work on different scenarios to stand ready for all unusual incidents.
The COVID-19 pandemic is a big challenge, but it is also an opportunity for our staff to have more time for training in Việt Nam before they are on duty. We started training for this team [who will set out to South Sudan in 2021] in July 2019. It began with language skills and then professional and technical training. It took almost two years. We have recently asked for the Australian Embassy in Việt Nam’s help testing our English skills and the results are good. About 86 per cent of them got at least 5.5 IELTS, the expected level from the UN. English is one of the challenges our staff face but they did a good job. We also offered training on COVID-19 testing.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we didn’t hire local workers anymore, our staff will be in charge of all operations, from logistics to security check. We have provided them with full training which range from security-related ones to survival skills. I believe this team will fulfil their tasks very well.
What are your expectations for this team during the new tenure in South Sudan?
I hope they will make new breakthroughs. COVID-19 testing is not included in our commitments with the UN but they required our staff to have COVID-19 testing capacity. It’s not merely taking samples and sending them to the capital city and then waiting for ten days for the results.
I also expect that they can manage to have a separate quarantine area so we can send suspected infected patients to these facilities to prevent the transmission of the virus among doctors, medical workers and patients.
I also hope that this team will make more contributions to the mission and contribute more ideas and solutions regarding COVID-19 prevention and control there. — VNS