Freed Fijian troops call home, and then celebrate

2014-09-12 11:37
A screen grab of the kidnapped UN Fiji peacekeepers. (Hanin Network Website, AP)

A screen grab of the kidnapped UN Fiji peacekeepers. (Hanin Network Website, AP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Suva - First came the emotional calls home and then the celebrations Friday as 45 Fijian peacekeepers held captive for two weeks by Syrian militants made it to safety.

Fiji's military chief described how his troops were released across the border at about midnight Fijian time, and were immediately given access to telephones to call their loved ones.

By 02:00 every affected family in Fiji knew the good news, Brigadier General Mosese Tikoitoga told reporters.

Then, he said, came the grog ceremony. In Fiji, at least, that would mean drinking a potent local brew, kava, although the chief didn't say if that was the case.

"We could see the singing and drinking in the background, all the laughter, so they are all back to Fijian moods", said Tikoitoga, describing a video call he had with his troops. "And so I assume that all is well with them, at least emotionally."

The Fijians had been held captive by the al-Qaeda linked Nusra Front since 28 August. They were part of a 1 200-strong UN force that had been stationed in the Golan Heights, the disputed buffer zone between Syria and Israel.

Remain on duty

Fiji's prime minister hailed the troops as "heroes".

"They kept their cool and showed restraint under the most extreme circumstances imaginable", Voreqe Bainimarama said. "Because of their discipline, not one militant was killed and none of our soldiers were harmed."

Still, the capture of the troops has raised questions both about the preparedness of the Fijian troops and of the future of the UN's four decade-long monitoring mission in the Golan Heights.

Tikoitoga said his troops had to make a decision to surrender 28 August, in consultation with UN commanders, based on their position and the firepower of the militants. He said they did so only after receiving reassurances from the Nusra Front that they would not be harmed.

He said his soldiers felt no hostility toward Filipino troops, who were also surrounded by the Nusra Front but who refused to surrender and later escaped.

"They made the choices they made in concurrence with their own government, and we respect that", Tikoitoga said. "For us, we've done what we needed to do for the safety of our people."

The chief said the released soldiers would go through medical and psychological testing before a decision was made about whether they would remain on duty in the region.

"The general feeling is that they want to stay", he said.

Read more on:    un  |  al-qaeda  |  syria  |  fiji  |  syria conflict

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.
NEXT ON NEWS24X publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24


Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.