National flags, tears glorify quake-killed peacekeepers

08:22, January 20, 2010      

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Soldiers carry the coffins of the eight peacekeeping police officers who died in the Haiti earthquake at the airport in Beijing, China, Jan. 19, 2010. (Xinhua/Jin Liangkuai)

Eight Chinese peacekeeping police officers last week lost their lives during a meeting with United Nations officials when a 7.3-magnitude earthquake ravaged Haiti, a Caribbean nation most Chinese know little about.

They were transported back Tuesday morning to a chilly and foggy Beijing. Eight coffins, draped in five-starred red national flags of the People's Republic of China (PRC), were escorted off a China Southern Airlines charter plane by honor guards to an apron where a slate of state leaders lining up for an unusual, solemn reception.

Senior officials were joined by families, holding portraits of their beloved, colleagues, biting their lips, and roughly a hundred unrelated people, bowing in silent tribute.

Zhou Yongkang, a Standing Committee member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, led the mourners to bow three times to the coffins. The former police chief wore a dark tie, a white-flower chest pin and a black armband, a Chinese way to show final respect for deceased.

Zhou Yongkang (front), a Standing Committee member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, delivers a speech during the homecoming ceremony for the eight peacekeeping police officers who died in the Haiti earthquake at the Beijing Capital International Airport, in Beijing, China, Jan. 19, 2010. (Xinhua/Pang Xinglong)

Police officer Zhong Hairong said, "In this exact airport seven months ago, I saw them off to Haiti, but they came back dead." Zhong accompanied families of the three victims, Li Qin, Zhong Jianqin and He Zhihong, from southwest Yunnan Province.

"They said to me they would come back safely. They were supposed to complete the mission by the end of April," said the middle-aged Zhong, with tears streaming down his cheeks.

One grief-stricken member of the victims' families, who arrived in Beijing late Sunday, said to Xinhua he cried every time when television networks broadcast pictures of the dead.

Zhong Jianqin, a dedicated peacekeeper, was sent to Haiti for the second time last June, four days after his daughter was born. Li Qin, a reportedly heavy smoker, quit smoking for his peacekeeping mission in Haiti. He Zhihong, the only female among the eight victims, survived by a son of poor health.

The rest five victims were Wang Shulin, Li Xiaoming, both researchers at the Ministry of Public Security; Zhu Xiaoping, director in charge of the ministry's equipment and finance; Guo Baoshan, deputy director of the ministry's international cooperation department; and Zhao Huayu, head of China's 7th peacekeeping corps to Haiti.

The eight and their colleagues worked in Haiti for U.N.-authorized policing.

China have dispatched 1,500 peacekeeping police duties to seven countries and regions since 2000, including Sudan, East Timor, and Haiti, a country that has yet established diplomatic ties with the PRC.

Days after the disastrous quake on Jan. 12, the Chinese government announced to send to Haiti emergency humanitarian aid worth millions of U.S. dollars.

In his official eulogy to the eight police officers, Zhou said they were "outstanding representatives of China's police and excellent sons and daughters of the Chinese nation."

A rarely-seen grand funeral was expected to be held for service Chinese who have been on international missions. The eight were honored Tuesday by the state government as "martyrs."

In slow dirge, eight white hearses carrying the coffins ran out of the Capital International Airport, heading for the national cemetery at Babaoshan of west Beijing.

The white fleet was silently viewed by tens of thousands of Beijing people standing on the 44.7-km route from the airport to Babaoshan, where most of the biggest names in China were buried .

Dozens of pedestrians stood on the Sanyuanqiao Bridge, carrying banners reading "Farewell our heroes" as the hearses passed by. An on-duty traffic policeman saluted long to the hearses.

As the vehicles passed the Ministry of Public Security building, with the national flag being hung at half mast, at the heart section of the Chang'an Street, hundreds of police officers lined up carrying banners reading "We are here seeing you home" as well as black-and-white portraits of the victims.

In the Tian'anmen Square which is next to the police headquarters, swarms of people stood still to pay their voluntary tribute.

A 65-year-old veteran Yang Chuanhua stood for hours under the Beijing Telegram Building, on top of which mounts the biggest clock in the whole city.

"The clock just struck twelve when the hearses came, and a dismal shiver ran down my spine," Yang said, "It's one's biggest honor to die for peace."

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