MANILA, Philippines—President Benigno Aquino is willing to extend the deployment of Filipino peacekeepers in the conflict-stricken Golan Heights if the United Nations agrees to certain conditions regarding the safety of the Filipino soldiers, Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said Saturday.
Del Rosario said the President was open to maintaining the country’s troops in the volatile ceasefire zone between Syria and Israel beyond the scheduled troop rotation on August 11 if safety and security conditions improve.
At least 340 Filipino peacekeepers are detailed to the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) at the ceasefire zone, which has been wracked by a spillover of violence between Syrian government and rebel forces.
“We are submitting our conditionalities [to the United Nations] for enhancing safety and security of Philippine peacekeepers in UNDOF,” Del Rosario told the Inquirer. “If these are approved, and the risk exposure does not exceed tolerable limits, the President has agreed for our people to remain beyond August 11 with a reassessment thereafter to be made every six months.”
Del Rosario earlier proposed to Aquino the withdrawal of the Philippine contingent, currently UNDOF’s biggest, following two separate abductions of Filipino “Blue Helmets”—21 in March and four in May— and the wounding of one during heavy fighting among Syrians in June.
The Philippines sent an assessment team to the Golan last month to determine if safety and security conditions in the area were improving.
The United Nations and the United States have asked the Philippines to rethink its pullout plan, saying the departure of another contingent would leave a vacuum and “create maximum volatility” on the Golan.
Apart from the Philippines, only India maintains a large presence of nearly 200 peacekeepers in the area, and it shares the Philippines’ security concerns.
Austria is in the process of pulling out its troops while Japan and Croatia have already withdrawn. Fiji has committed to send some 500 peacekeepers to the Golan to reinforce the already undermanned UNDOF.