Philippines Mulls Pullout of UN Peacekeepers Held by Syrian Rebels

Philippine foreign secretary recommends pull out after peacekeepers were abducted from the Golan Heights. 'We have to worry about the safety of our people,' he says.

Reuters
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The Philippine foreign secretary said Friday that he has recommended President Benigno Aquino III pull out all Filipino UN peacekeepers from the Golan Heights following the abduction of four by Syrian rebels, the second such incident in two months.

Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said the government believes the exposure of the country's 342 peacekeepers "is beyond tolerable limits."

Aquino will have the final say in the matter. It is not clear when the decision will be made.

"We have sent a recommendation to the president and as soon as he says go, we will undertake to do that as soon as possible," del Rosario told reporters.

He added: "We have to worry about the safety of our people ... we don't want to unnecessarily expose our people there."

Syrian rebels seized the four peacekeepers along the UN-patrolled demarcation line separating the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and Syria on Tuesday, only two months after 21 Filipino peacekeepers were abducted and held for three days by the rebels in the same area.

A video emerged online Thursday that purportedly shows the abducted peacekeepers, who appeared unhurt. A bearded man, believed to be with a group called the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade, read out a statement saying the peacekeepers had been moved to another location for their own safety as fighting raged between Syrian government troops and rebels.

The statement did not specify where the peacekeepers were being held, nor conditions for their release.

The Yarmouk Brigades also was behind the March abduction.

"We are also aware of the fact that negotiations are also being undertaken with the group that has allegedly abducted these peacekeepers. We contend on the other hand that abduction of peacekeepers is a violation of international law," del Rosario said.

"If you look at the situation there, the people that abducted the peacekeepers were actually under siege and they were using our people to be able to get them out of the situation that they found themselves in. And that's not healthy for us," he said.

Nearly 1,000 UN peacekeepers are patrolling the Golan Heights, which Israel seized from Syria in the 1967 Mideast war. Other major contributors are India and Austria. Croatia has recently withdrawn its contingent.

Philippine peacekeeping officers line up before departing to Syrian Golan Heights.Credit: AP

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