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MENAFN - Arab News - 29/08/2014
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(MENAFN - Arab News) UNITED NATIONS: Negotiations are going on for the release of 43 United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) peacekeepers in the Golan Heights who are being held hostage by Syrian rebels the UN said Friday. The UN said the captured soldiers are from Fiji and another 81 peacekeepers who are trapped in their positions are from the Philippines. A UN press office said in a statement on Friday that the peacekeepers were seized 'during a period of increased fighting beginning yesterday between armed elements and Syrian Arab Armed Forces within the area of separation in the Golan Heights.' 'The United Nations is making every effort to secure the release of the detained peacekeepers and to restore the full freedom of movement of the force throughout its area of operation' it said. In Suva Fijian Commander Brig. Gen. Mosese Tikoitoga said three vehicles filled with about 150 armed rebels had converged on the soldiers' post at about 7:30 a.m. Thursday. He said the rebels demanded the soldiers leave within 10 minutes and insisted they go in rebel vehicles. He said they were then taken by the rebels to an unknown location. He said he's been told they were later transported back to their original post. In Manila the Philippine military said in a statement that militants had surrounded the Philippine contingent's encampments with Fijian hostages in tow and demanded that the Filipino troops surrender their firearms. 'The Philippine peacekeepers held their ground and demonstrated their resolve to defend their positions' it said. 'They did not surrender their firearms as they may in turn be held hostage themselves.' The Security Council issued a statement strongly condemning the seizure of the peacekeepers and calling for their immediate release. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon echoed the council word's in his own statement of condemnation. Reporters asked UN spokesman Dujarric if the United Nations was in contact with the group holding the Fijians. He declined to specify who the world body was in contact with but said there was communication under way. Poorly equipped UN officials say that the peacekeepers whose job is to monitor the cessation of hostilities carry small arms that are only to be used in extreme circumstances. In previous situations where UNDOF peacekeepers were held hostage the troops did not use their weapons. 'In extreme circumstances these troops are trained and prepared and equipped to defend themselves but obviously each situation has to be analyzed on a case-by-case basis' UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said. He said there are contacts being held at different levels on the mission and on the ground. 'They are talking to representatives of various armed groups that they have ... operational contact with. They are talking to countries in the region.' The Quneitra crossing on the Golan is a strategic plateau captured by Israel in a 1967 Middle East war. Syria and Israel technically remain at war. Syrian troops are not allowed in an area of separation under a 1973 cease-fire formalized in 1974. UNDOF monitors the area of separation a narrow strip of land running about 45 miles (70 km) from Mount Hermon on the Lebanese border to the Yarmouk River frontier with Jordan. There are 1223 UNDOF peacekeepers from six countries. Before the Syrian civil war now in its fourth year the region was generally quiet and the peacekeepers had mostly found their biggest enemy to be boredom. The force's personnel come from Fiji India Ireland Nepal Netherlands and the Philippines. The United Nations said this week that the Philippines has decided to pull out of UNDOF and from a UN force in Liberia which is struggling with an outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus. Blue-helmeted UN troops were seized by militants in March and May 2013. In both of those cases they were released safely. Austria Japan and Croatia have all pulled their troops out of UNDOF due to the deteriorating security situation and spillover from the Syrian war. Despite the latest crisis Fijian Army Commander Brig.-General Mosese Tikoitoga told Reuters in an interview on Friday that he would not be recommending to his government that Fiji follow suit. 'If I was to make any recommendation I would increase our forces in Syria. That would be my recommendation' he said by phone from Fiji. 'We will not make any recommendations of pulling out from the UN or any other engagement because our contribution to UN peacekeeping if we don't want to do this then who else in the world would want to do this' He added that he was confident the Fijians would be released soon based on the strength of their contacts in the Golan Heights region. A A


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