Policeman ends Cyprus UN stint, mindful 'peace never comes easy'
A Shanghai police officer has returned from his one-year United Nations peacekeeping mission in Cyprus where he and his counterparts from other countries worked to keep the peace among various communities and dealt with intruders, smugglers and illegal hunters.
Gu Ye, 38, was recruited from China to work for the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus as he had solid English skills and was experienced in police work. He left for the island on January 15 last year.
The UN force in Cyprus has been operating on the island for over four decades in the absence of a political settlement between the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities.
As of December 2017, there were 68 police officers in the UN force in Cyprus, and China with seven officers was the fourth largest police contributor after Ireland, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Ukraine, according to the UN.
Together with 12 colleagues from various countries, Gu worked at a UN police station in Pyla, an eastern town located next to a buffer zone. It is the only town in the whole island with a mixed population.
Gu’s main job was to clear the buffer zone of intruders, smugglers and illegal hunters, keep the peace and handle crimes in Pyla and prevent demonstrations from getting out of hand.
The 180-kilometer-long buffer zone was mostly dusty and muddy and there were no paved roads and lights at night.
Gu found himself in a dangerous situation in the buffer zone early in his mission when he decided to check out an unknown path but his vehicle became stuck before a sharp turn.
“It was getting dark and I got out of the car to see if I could back up my car, and I found the car was only 20 centimeters from the edge of a cliff,” he said. He, however, managed to get out of the tight spot.
Gu said his “strategy” aimed to make as many friends as possible in his work with the local community.
So Gu, like his colleagues, also left his mobile phone number with all residents so that they could call him if needed to deal with emergencies or even family disputes.
To integrate himself into the local community, Gu learnt greetings in the local language and gave candy from Shanghai as gifts to little children. Some locals would invite him to drop by and have coffee with them.
“During casual talks I got to know a lot about local life and the local people got to know me well too,” he said.
Gu would also help some elderly or disabled people who needed to apply for documents from the police by collecting materials from them at their home addresses.
“Building mutual trust is a first step to successful police work,” he said.
This mutual trust paid off in an incident in August last year during the annual town unity fair held by the UN. An old man whom Gu once helped confronted a truck which knocked down his stand.
“The man has a fiery temper and it was getting intense when some other residents started to join him,” Gu recalled. “Knowing that it was hard to dissuade him, I helped him reassemble the stand and made him turn his attention around” from the truck which drove off and the fair continued in peace.
Gu said locals were interested in Chinese culture, and some children loved to greet him with “ni hao (hello).”
Before Gu returned to China, some local men asked him to write auspicious Chinese words which sounded like the names of their wife and children.
His spare time was spent cooking together with colleagues, reading and training, but the loneliness of living away from his family was often overwhelming.
He typed messages to his wife and daughter on social networks, but he couldn’t talk to them on video because of the bad Internet infrastructure where he worked.
“It was enough to know that my family and my colleagues in China were always with me, and this mission made me believe that peace never comes easy,” he said.