Dozens of People’s Liberation Army soldiers suddenly appeared on the streets of Hong Kong’s Kowloon Tong district on Saturday afternoon to clean up bricks and dismantle barricades placed by the protesters, news outlets reported.

It was the first time PLA soldiers had been seen on Hong Kong streets since the anti-government protests began in June.

The Chinese soldiers, clad in black shorts and olive-green T-shirts with Chinese flags on the sleeves, worked at a rapid pace with buckets and brooms to clean the streets. After only a half-hour, they disappeared back into their garrison in Kowloon Tong, Radio Television Hong Kong reported.

Renfrew and Junction Roads, which separate the garrison from Baptist University, had been blocked with debris since Wednesday.

About 20 members of the public, including some young children, helped the soldiers with the unexpected clean-up operation. Firefighters and police officers also joined in later to help.

A PLA soldier said their actions had nothing to do with the Hong Kong government, the South China Morning Post reported.

“We initiated this! ‘Stopping violence and ending chaos’ is our responsibility,” he said, quoting a phrase coined by President Xi Jinping.

Last year, Hong Kong Secretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu said the PLA could decide on whether to send soldiers in to perform volunteer services outside military sites.

Under Hong Kong’s Garrison Law, and the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution, the PLA must not interfere in local affairs but troops can be called out to help with disaster relief or maintain public order if requested by the local government, the SCMP reported. The Hong Kong government did not make an announcement about the PLA’s involvement. Such a request has never been made since the city returned to Chinese rule 22 years ago.

In October 2018, more than 400 soldiers were sent to Hong Kong’s country parks to help remove trees knocked down by Typhoon Mangkhut a month earlier.

The Garrison Law states that the Hong Kong government should be notified if the PLA planned to conduct any military activities, which may affect the public.