China asks S.Sudan to punish those responsible for Chinese peacekeeper deaths

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - China's foreign minister Wang Yi met his counterpart from South Sudan and asked him to quickly identify and punish those responsible for killing two Chinese soldiers in the capital of Juba, according to an article on the foreign ministry's website. Two Chinese peacekeepers were killed and several others injured by a mortar shell earlier this month during fighting between followers of President Salva Kiir and Riek Machar, the former rebel leader who became vice president under a deal to end the civil war. During that time personnel of the United Nations Mission to South Sudan (UNMISS) also came under attack. The Sudanese minister Deng Alor Kuol expressed grief over the deaths and promised to quickly investigate and punish the culprits, according to the Chinese foreign ministry statement. Wang told Deng Alor Kuol that peace is a prerequisite for development, and he hoped both sides in South Sudan can put the public interest first, and protect the safety of lives and property, including Chinese lives and property. The peacekeepers' bodies were returned to China on Tuesday. To date, China has sent over 30,000 officers and soldiers to 24 UN peacekeeping missions, and 13 have lost their lives, according to state media. China is the largest consumer of oil produced in the Sudan region, but its energy strategy - including major infrastructure investment - has been bedevilled by civil conflict. Beijing was originally a supporter of the northern Sudanese government and sold it weapons, but the country split in half and China had to reestablish relations with a sceptical new government in South Sudan. Now the South Sudan government has destabilised, and China sent a special envoy to Africa earlier this month to help resolve the political crisis. China National Petroleum Company (CNPC) said it had evacuated the bulk of its workers from South Sudan but its operations were unaffected. The United Nations Mission to South Sudan (UNMISS) has extended its mandate to operate in South Sudan until Aug. 12 after U.N. chief Ban Ki-Moon said the country is on the "brink of an abyss," but the South Sudan government has cancelled issuing visas on arrival to U.N. personnel and diplomats and instituted a three-day waiting period, according to a Xinhua report. (Reporting by Pete Sweeney; Editing by Kim Coghill)