Saturday, August 30, 2014
81 Pinoy Soldiers Trapped in Syria
Eighty-one Filipino peacekeepers under the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) are holding their ground against Syrian rebels who surrounded them after they refused to surrender their weapons in Golan Heights, the United Nations confirmed yesterday.
Before trapping the Filipinos, the Syrian rebels occupied the position of 43 peacekeepers from Fiji near the Quneitra crossing and ordered them to surrender their firearms. However, upon surrendering their firearms, the peacekeepers from Fiji were immediately held hostage.
Later, the Syrian rebels tried to take the Filipinos’ position and ordered them to surrender their weapons.
Learning from the Fijians’ experience, the 81 Filipino soldiers refused to surrender their firearms and opted to hold their ground.
“They are well experienced and they know the risks that they have to face,” he added.
Ancan assured the Filipino public that the Philippine peacekeepers are well armed and in a “well fortified position.”
President Aquino cut short his Oriental Mindoro trip to deal with the situation.
He however assured that the situation is stable, although he admitted that there is tension.
“Right now, although the situation is tense, I think there was no danger reported so far to our Department of National Defense,” Aquino said.
“They have M4 assault rifles, M69 light machine guns, K3 squad automatic weapons, and caliber .45 pistols as well as sufficient ammunition to defend themselves,” said Ancan.
AFP spokesman Gen. Domingo Tutaan, Jr., for his part, stressed that while Philippine government and UN officials are already trying to peacefully resolve the situation, “the Philippine peacekeeping contingent has the right to defend its position.”
“Our soldiers are prepared, trained and capable of dealing with these situations and will take risks to fulfill our commitment to international security and peace,” said Tutaan.
The office of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the Filipino peacekeepers are “currently being restricted to their positions in the vicinity of Ar Ruwayhinah and Burayqah.”
It was not specified in the UN statement what armed group was holding the Fiji peacekeepers. Various Syrian rebel groups, including the al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front, have been fighting the Syrian military near the Golan Heights.
But the US State Department pointed the finger at Al-Nusra.
“This resulted in a standoff which is still the prevailing situation at this time, as UN officials try to peacefully resolve the situation,” said a statement from the Philippine Department of National Defense (DND).
“I just like to emphasize that our troops are well armed, they are well trained before their deployment … and they are well disciplined warrior peacekeepers,” said Col. Roberto Ancan, commander of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Peacekeeping Operations Center, in a press conference at Camp Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo.
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