MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines on Friday, July 5, decided to extend the stay of Filipino peacekeepers in conflict-stricken Golan Heights, and said it is willing to keep them there depending on certain conditions.
“The President has agreed to continue with the deployment of our 340 contingents until August 11, at which time the rotational process will be determined,” Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said in a statement released by Malacañang.
This is an 8-day extension, after the Philippines initially committed to maintain its peacekeepers there only until August 3.
President Benigno Aquino III also said the Philippines “is prepared to continue” its participation in the United Nations peacekeeping force, Del Rosario said.
That is, “subject to meeting considerations which the Philippines has made to enhance the security and safety of our peacekeepers.”
Del Rosario did not detail these considerations in his 3-sentence statement, but suggested Aquino based these on the recommendations of an assessment team.
Earlier, Aquino threatened to withdraw Philippine troops from the UN peacekeeping force in Golan Heights unless they receive anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons, as well as protection against chemical arms.
Japan and Croatia had withdrawn their troops from the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) because of increasing violence from the Syrian civil war.
The peacekeeping force was left with only over 500 Filipino and Indian troops. While aware it was a “dangerous” mission, Fiji also committed to boost the peacekeeping force.
US Secretary of State John Kerry, for his part, has appealed to the Philippines not to withdraw its peacekeepers from there, even as most of their counterparts from other countries have left.
The UNDOF has monitored the Syrian side of the armistice line since 1974, even as Syrian rebels have targeted peacekeepers in recent months.
One of the biggest incidents involving Filipino peacekeepers happened in March, when rebels kidnapped 21 of them. On June 6, a Filipino peacekeeper was wounded, prompting the Philippine government to reconsider its troops’ presence in Golan Heights. – Rappler.com