Philippines likely to keep troops in Golan for another 6 months

Foreign secretary tells AFP peacekeepers to stay on Syria border, despite troops being scheduled to withdraw August 11.

July 31, 2013 12:30
2 minute read.
UNDOF peacekeepers in the Golan Heights

UNDOF peacekeepers in the Golan 370. (photo credit: REUTERS)

The Philippines on Wednesday aims to keep their 342 soldiers on peacekeeping duties in the Golan Heights, the foreign minister said on Wednesday, despite the troops being scheduled to withdraw on August 11.

Albert del Rosario said Manila was satisfied with action taken by the United Nations to keep Filipino peacekeepers safe with promises to provide protective equipment and weapons, including armored vehicles.

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"On that basis, the likelihood is we will continue beyond August 11," del Rosario said, referring to the deadline set by the Philippines plan to withdraw the troops in the absence of UN guarantees.

He said he would recommend to President Benigno Aquino to keep the troops in the Golan Heights for another six months.

"I still have to go back go the president for his blessing but I don't think it will be a problem," AFP quoted Rosario as saying.

United Nations diplomats in June said troops would likely now get equipment such as flak jackets, armored vehicles and machine guns.

The Phillipines said in May it was considering withdrawing their troops after two groups of troops were captured by Syrian rebels.

UNDOF monitors the area of separation, a narrow strip of land running 45 miles (70 km) from Mount Hermon on the Lebanese border to the Yarmouk River frontier with Jordan.

The Security Council resolution "stresses the need to enhance the safety and security of UNDOF" and endorses recommendation of "further adjustments to the posture and operations of the mission, as well as to implement additional mitigation measures to enhance the self-defense capabilities."

Peacekeepers have been caught in the middle of fighting between Syrian troops and rebels in the area of separation, which had been largely quiet since the ceasefire. Stray shells and bullets also have landed on the Israeli-controlled side and Israeli troops have fired into Syria in response.

Syria's conflict started more than two years ago with mainly peaceful demonstrations against President Bashar Assad, but descended into a civil war in which the United Nations says at least 90,000 people have been killed.

Earlier in June two UN peacekeepers were wounded when Syrian rebels captured a Golan border post, but were then driven out by Syrian troops.

Rebels have detained peacekeepers on several different occasions before releasing them. Japan and Croatia already have withdrawn troops from UNDOF due to the violence and Austria has started bringing home its contingent of some 380 troops.

About 500 Fijian troops will fill the gap, while the United Nations is still in talks with various countries to find several hundred more troops to join the force.The Philippines already has some 340 troops in UNDOF along with nearly 200 troops from India.

The Philippines has deployed more than 800 soldiers in UN peacekeeping operations in eight hotspots across the globe. Nearly 350 of them are on duty in the ceasefire zone in the Golan Heights.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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