Filipino peacekeepers may leave Golan

2013-05-10 12:07
Filipino UN peacekeepers cross the Quneitra checkpoint between Israel and Syria in the Golan Heights. (Ahmad Gharabli, AFP)

Filipino UN peacekeepers cross the Quneitra checkpoint between Israel and Syria in the Golan Heights. (Ahmad Gharabli, AFP)

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Manila - Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said on Friday he wanted all Filipino peacekeepers pulled out of the Golan Heights as soon as possible, following the abduction of four troops.

Del Rosario said he would make the recommendation to President Benigno Aquino to withdraw the more than 300 troops, and it was up to him to make the decision.

"As soon as he says go, we will undertake to do that as soon as possible," del Rosario told reporters.

Syrian rebels seized the four Filipino peacekeepers at an observation post in the Golan Heights on Tuesday, only two months after 21 Filipino soldiers were abducted by the same group for four days.

"The people that abducted our peacekeepers were actually under siege and they are using our people to get themselves out of the situation they find themselves in. That thing is not for us," del Rosario said.

"We don't want to expose our people any further, any more than we need to."

Del Rosario said he understood it normally required three months' notice to withdraw troops from a United Nations peacekeeping mission.

"But under the circumstances, where people are in jeopardy, obviously our people are in jeopardy, we may try to get... the UN to release them earlier if that is possible," he said.

Dangerous and unusual environment

The UN Disengagement Observer Force (Undof) has been monitoring a ceasefire in the Golan Heights between Israel and Syria since 1974.

It has about 1 000 peacekeepers and civilian staff from Austria, India, Morocco and Moldova, as well as the Philippines.

Del Rosario said there were about 340 Filipino troops in the peacekeeping force.

The Syrian rebel group, which calls itself the "Yarmuk Martyrs Brigade", has said it is holding the peacekeepers "for their own safety".

On Wednesday, the UN pulled all peacekeepers out of the observation post in the al Jamlah zone where the four Filipinos were abducted.

"In light of the evolving security situation, peacekeepers from that position have been relocated," UN spokesperson Martin Nesirky said.

"[The Undof is] operating in an extremely dangerous and unusual environment," he added.
However Nesirky said there were no indications that the rebels had harmed the abducted Filipinos.

"Efforts are still under way to secure their release," he said.

Del Rosario said he had no updates on the negotiations with the rebels.

Nesirky said on Wednesday he had not heard about any country seeking to withdraw from the force. Security measures were already stepped up after the March abductions and many patrols curtailed.

Read more on:    un  |  syria  |  syria conflict

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