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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

UN Appoints First Chinese Commander in Africa

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United Nations announced Monday the appointment of its first Chinese force commander for a U.N. peacekeeping mission. He will serve in the disputed Western Sahara territory.

Maj. Gen. Zhao Jingmin will be force commander for what is termed the U.N. Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara, known by its French acronym MINURSO. He replaces Danish Gen. Kurt Mosgaard, who ended his tour of duty Monday.

"This will be the first time that the U.N. has had a Chinese force commander heading one of its missions," U.N. spokeswoman Michele Montas told a regular news briefing.

Western Sahara is a former Spanish colony on the northwest African coast. Morocco annexed the territory after Madrid pulled out in 1975 but clashed with Polisario Front guerrillas seeking independence. A cease-fire was declared in 1991.

Since then, just over 200 U.N. troops and military observers have been stationed in Sahara, where a 1,500-km (940-mile) wall of sand running through landmine-infested desert to the Atlantic divides Moroccan and Polisario forces.

Zhao, a career army officer, was born in 1954 and speaks French and English after being educated in both Beijing and Dakar, Senegal. He served briefly in MINURSO after it was first set up.

He was also chief liaison officer in the U.N. Iraq-Kuwait Observer Mission from 1996-97, and from 1998-2001 was Chinese military attache in Tunisia. Since 2003 he has worked in the Chinese defense ministry's office of peacekeeping affairs.

The United Nations is currently mediating talks between Morocco, which has offered self-rule for the resource-rich Western Sahara, and Polisario, which seeks a referendum with full independence for the 260,000 inhabitants as one option.

The Rest @ Reuters Africa

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