MANILA, Philippines – While the United Nations (UN) is holding backchannel talks to make the Syrian rebels end the standoff with Filipino peacekeepers in central Golan, another group of Filipino troops were ordered to leave their posts in Position 60 located in the north.
“This is Position 60. It’s not a pullout. Our troops were consolidated at Camp Faouar, the UNDOF headquarters…. It is part of contigency plans,” Philippine military spokesperson Major General Domingo Tutaan Jr confirmed to Rappler Friday evening, August 29.
At least 58 troops, including 7 officers, moved out of Position 60 at 5:30 pm on Friday to “consolidate” at Camp Faouar, the headquarters of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF). The order came as the standoff in central Golan marked its 2nd day Friday afternoon.
The troops are committed to defend their posts and the UN facilities, officials said.
Positions 68 and 69, where the standoff is ongoing, are located in central Golan. Position 60, on the other hand, is located in the northern part.
Over 300 Filipino troops are currently deployed as peacekeepers in Golan. There are more troops deployed in the southern part.
Syrian rebels surrounded at 10 am Thursday (3 pm, Thursday in Manila), August 28, the encampments of Filipino peacekeepers. The standoff began when Filipinos refused to give in to the rebels’ demand to surrender their firearms, concerned that they will also be taken hostage like the 43 Fijian peacekeepers. (Editor’s note: Wire agencies earlier put the number of Filipino troops at 81; the military clarified there are only 75)
The Philippine military said the troops will stand their ground to protect the UN facilities. (READ: Filipino peacekeepers in Golan to defend posts vs Syrian rebels)
Golan Heights straddles the borders of warring Syria and Israel. It is the task of the peacekeepers to “maintain the ceasefire and supervise the agreement and protocol with regard to the area of separation and area of limitation.” The situation changed when internal conflict erupted in Syria in 2011.
The incident happens as the Philippines is finalizing the pullout of troops in Golan Heights because of the escalating security situation. Their tour of duty is ending in October and no fresh troops will be deployed. – Rappler.com