The Philippines said on Friday it would keep its 340 peacekeepers in the Golan Heights at least until Aug. 11 while it reviews the provision of heavier weapons and enhanced protection for the troops.
Despite the recent abduction of Filipino peacekeepers, President Benigno Aquino III said he would reject a proposal to pull the Filipinos out if the United Nations (UN) met his requests to boost security, Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said in a statement.
The UN Security Council recently approved the provision of machine guns and other enhanced security provisions for the Golan Heights peacekeepers, members of the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) tasked to enforce a 1974 truce between Syria and Israel. Recently, the spillover of fighting between Syria and its internal rebel groups has posed new threats to the UNDOF.
The brief abduction of 25 Filipino members of the UNDOF by Syrian rebels this year as well as the wounding of a soldier at a UN outpost prompted Del Rosario to recommend to Aquino that all the country’s troops be withdrawn.
“The President has agreed to continue with the deployment of our 340-man contingent until Aug. 11, 2013, at which time the rotational process will be determined. Subject to meeting considerations which the Philippines has made to enhance the security and safety of our peacekeepers, the President has expressed the Philippines is prepared to continue its UNDOF participation,” Palace spokesperson Edwin Lacierda reiterated.
Aquino earlier said the Philippine troops needed antitank and antiaircraft weapons, and protection against chemical warfare.
Escalating violence against the UNDOF has seen other countries pull out their troops.
Austria, previously the top contributor, has begun withdrawing its 377 soldiers, leaving a force of 533—340 from the Philippines and 193 from India.
Earlier, Japan and Croatia withdrew their UNDOF contingents.
It was reported that Fiji has agreed to send 500 soldiers
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said on Monday the UN was “seriously concerned” about its shrinking peacekeeping force in the Golan Heights and was seeking to recruit troops from Europe to fill the gap.
Del Rosario earlier said the UN and the United States have been trying to dissuade the Philippines from pulling out.
At a press briefing on Friday, Lacierda stressed the President’s concern for the safety of its troops:
“We already had the sad experience of having our peacekeepers abducted (twice) by some forces, so we are concerned.”
One Filipino soldier was wounded on June 6 when he was hit by a shrapnel while at Camp Ziouni, the logistics base of UNDOF in the area.
“So we are presently coordinating with them, and what is very clear (is) that we are committed to stay until Aug. 11 and then, we’ll talk,” Lacierda said.
The UN Security Council had passed a resolution to extend the mandate of the force until the end of the year. It called on the Syrian government and opposition fighters to stay out of the zone. AFP, Michael Lim Ubac