Video shows PH troops kidnapped in Syria
BEIRUT, Lebanon (2nd UPDATE) - Video footage posted on the Internet Thursday, March 7, shows some of a group of 21 Filipino UN peacekeepers seized by Syrian rebels the previous day, with one of them saying they were safe and being cared for.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights posted the video which shows six uniformed members of the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), and an officer who identifies himself as a member of the Filipino battalion of the UN.
The men had been patrolling the sensitive Golan armistice line with Israel on Wednesday when they were seized.
The Filipino officer, who identified himself in a garbled voice as Capt Cyrus Matallado Meneses, said they had been travelling to the village of Al Jamla when they ran into bombing and artillery fire, and "civilians" helped them to safety.
He explained they were distributed to different places "to keep us safe," and given "good accommodation, food to eat and water to drink."
"We are here, safe in this place," the officer added in the 43-second clip.
Negotiations for release underway
The Filipino peacekeepers -- 18 soldiers and 3 officers -- are assigned to the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) in the Golan Heights, where the Philippines has deployed 333 police and military personnel.
Shortly after news of the abduction broke, the Philippine government called for their immediate release.
A statement from the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) confirmed that the hostages are unharmed and "negotiations are underway to secure their safe release" in coordination with the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations.
Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said the "apprehension and illegal detention" of the peacekeepers are "are gross violations of international law.”
Meanwhile President Benigno Aquino III announced he had received information that the troops would be released as early as Thursday afternoon.
DFA spokesman Raul Hernandez added that the hostages were "being treated as visitors and guests."
Syrian rebels on Wednesday abducted the Filipinos inside the ceasefire zone of the area disputed by Syria and Israel, as the violence from the rebel campaign against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad spread further.
The Filipinos were nabbed at a rebel post just 1.5 km on the Syrian side of the armistice line at its southern end towards the Yarmuk River on the border with Jordan.
The rebels, calling themselves the Yarmuk Martyrs Brigade, demanded in video statements that Damascus withdraw its troops from Al Jamla and surrounding villages in the area.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon also called for the "immediate" release of the Filipinos and demanded that the Syrian government and rebels respect "UNDOF's freedom of movement and security."
The kidnapping sparked a chorus of international condemnation amid concern that their seizure might prompt more governments to withdraw their contingents from an already depleted UN mission at a time of soaring tensions in the area.
Israel warned that the UN peacekeeping force in the Golan Heights could pull out altogether from the area, creating a security vacuum there and making the no-man's land open to infiltration by hardline militant groups. - with reports from Carlos Santamaria & Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com