Vietnam’s imprints

In October 2022, a delegation led by Deputy Defense Minister Senior Lieutenant General Hoang Xuan Chien, Head of the Ministry’s Steering Committee for Participation in U.N. Peacekeeping Operations, inspected the Vietnamese peacekeeping force in the UNISFA. I always bore in mind the saying of Senior Lieutenant General Hoang Xuan Chien before arriving at the mission: “We have to spend as much time as possible visiting the Vietnamese engineering force in the field.” Therefore, after a meeting with the Vietnamese Engineering Company Rotation 1, the UNISFA working team and leader of the UNISFA, the delegation quickly moved to several construction sites being undertaken by the Vietnamese Engineering Company Rotation 1 in Abyei.

Deputy Defense Minister Senior Lieutenant General Hoang Xuan Chien, on behalf of the Vietnamese troops, receiving a breeding cow from Abyei people

Though the sun was burning hot, the Engineering Company Rotation 1’s excavators, bulldozers, scrapers, and rollers continued to work hard to upgrade a road from Rumajak to Dukara 1. This was part of a 50-km long route to the Sudanese border, one of the arterial roads to serve units at the UNISFA and local people. Previously, the old dirt road was always in very bad condition. It was dusty in dry season, and muddy in rainy season. The bigger and heavier the vehicles were, the more difficult it was for them to run. When it rained, the road turned into a muddy field, and people and troops were unable to pass through it. However, thanks to their great efforts, it took the Vietnamese Engineering Company Rotation 1 two weeks to repair the road. Welcoming the delegation, Mayor of Abyei Hon Apach Deng Biong said:

Deputy Defense Minister Senior Lieutenant General Hoang Xuan Chien inspecting a construction of the Engineering Company Rotation 1

- “For years, local people have been facing a number of difficulties, especially bad road conditions. I would like to send my sincere thanks to the Vietnamese troops! Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh!”

- “Do you want them to continue to stay in Abyei?” asked Senior Lieutenant General Hoang Xuan Chien

- “Yes Sir, absolutely, as long as possible!”

Engineering Company Rotation 1 upgrading a road from Rumajak to Dukara 1

- “So, we will try our best. Vietnamese troops are present here to help people in Abyei,” the general replied.

On this occasion, on behalf of the local people, Mayor Hon handed over a breeding cow to the Vietnamese Engineering Company Rotation 1 to show their gratitude to the Vietnamese engineers for their help.

Senior Lieutenant General Hoang Xuan Chien received the gift, affirming that with the cow presented by local people, the Vietnamese peacekeeping force would raise to a herd of cows.

The delegation then visited Abyei High School. They were warmly welcomed by students there. Recently, the Vietnamese engineers built a road to the school, repaired the school’s playground, and drilled a well to provide clean water for them. In the coming time, Senior Lieutenant General Hoang Xuan Chien stressed that the Vietnamese Defense Ministry would direct the company to further assist the school.

Lieutenant Colonel Nguyen Quang Tuyen, Political Officer of the Vietnamese Engineering Company Rotation 1, stated on the way back to the Highway base, where the Vietnamese Engineering Company Rotation 1 is stationed, that Abyei’s residential area and Dari market are densely populated and have flat terrain, but there is almost no drainage system and people just dug some ditches themselves. In rainy season, these places are often flooded, and people live in water and mud, causing many contagious diseases. The unit sent forces and vehicles to dig and dredge more than 20km of drainage canals connecting to low-lying areas, then lead them to a river. At the same time, it put underground culverts through the main road, thereby thoroughly solving flooding issue in rainy season.

These are some of the humanitarian activities and civil construction that the company has done since they arrived in Abyei. Lieutenant Colonel Nguyen Quang Tuyen emphasized that these great efforts of the engineers originated from military-civilian solidarity and ties. “In addition, the UNISFA working team has wholeheartedly assisted us in fulfilling all assigned missions,” he added.

The author and children in Abyei

Joy of children

As our vehicle was near the Highway base’s gate, I saw a group of Abyei kids. Obviously, it was not a special welcoming ceremony for us. They held high fish and chicken, looking like child football players lifting a trophy after the final game. The vehicle stopped, the children gathered around, and Lieutenant Colonel Nguyen Thi Lien, Civil-military Coordination Officer of the Vietnamese Engineering Company Rotation 1, got off. They turned out to make an offer for their goods.

As Lien selected two chickens and some catfish, they started to haggle. Because local people only speak Arabic, the two sides mostly used hand gestures. She paid them 3,000 South Sudanese pounds each, and then gave them candies. They cheered and rejoiced greatly, then constantly said “thank you” in Vietnamese.

Reviving Abyei Mayor’s car

The driver (right) feels happy as the Mayor’s car has been revived.

On late afternoon of the same day, I went to the headquarters of the Vietnamese Engineering Company Rotation 1, in fact made from several old containers. At this time, Senior Colonel Mac Duc Trong, Commanding Officer of the company, and Abyei Mayor Hon were discussing measures to surmount the flooding situation in the Northern sub-region of Abyei. Trong underlined that he would report the case to the UNISFA leadership and promptly conduct a field  survey.

Not long after Abyei Mayor left, there was sound of people calling each other for help. It turned out that the Mayor could not start his 20-year-old car and he needed some people to push it. Mayor Hon said that the car had been in this condition for months. Local mechanics could not fix it. 

Senior Colonel Mac Duc Trong shouted with laughter and talked with the mayor, “You are very lucky today. There is a top mechanic of the Vietnam People’s Army at the base,” then quickened steps to ask Senior Colonel Tran Huu Ly, Director of the Military Institute of Mechanical Engineering under the General Department of Technical Services, who was a member of the working delegation to Abyei to further train the company’s members.

It took Senior Colonel Tran Huu Ly a couple of minutes to come to a diagnosis. Accordingly, the car’s original four-valve engine was replaced by a six-valve one, thence impacting the car’s electrical system. Meanwhile, the battery was nearly  flat. Together with several members of the company, Senior Colonel Tran Huu Ly started repairing the car.

After around 20 minutes, the driver could get the car started. Mayor Hon thumbed up and shouted, “Thank you, thank you! You are so great!” Waving goodbye to the Abyei Mayor, Senior Colonel Tran Huu Ly said, “We have successfully revived this old car.”

Written by Van Hieu

Translated by Minh Anh