MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario has set out conditions to the United Nations for more than 300 Filipino peacekeepers to stay in the Golan Heights, including additional weapons for their protection and shorter periods of deployment in the volatile buffer region separating Israel from Syria, officials said Sunday.
UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous told Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario in a meeting Friday in New York that the world body will work “with all stakeholders to provide what is needed consistent with the disengagement agreement,” the Department of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.
President Benigno Aquino III’s administration did not immediately say if the UN pledge would be enough for it to decide to keep 342 Filipino soldiers in the Golan Heights beyond August 11, when the Philippine contingent was to be replaced by fresh troops. Aquino has sought increased security for the troops, saying they face “an undoable mission” if their security in the increasingly violent buffer zone was not bolstered.
Austria announced recently that it would remove its 377 peacekeepers from the 911-member UN peacekeeping force, which includes troops from India, leaving the Philippines as the largest single contributor of armed peacekeepers.
The United Nations and the United States have asked the Philippines to keep its troops in place, warning of “maximum volatility” in the Golan Heights if the Filipinos withdraw after a number of other countries such as Japan and Croatia pulled out their forces amid escalating violence and a series of abductions of peacekeepers.
Del Rosario told Ladsous that the Philippines wanted the UN to deploy an agreed peacekeeping force of 1,250 troops and acquire additional protective equipment and weapons for the soldiers by October. Filipino troops should also be allowed to be replaced every six months, shorter than the current deployment, the statement said.
It said that Ladsous understood the Philippines’ position and agreed that more robust defense capabilities were needed for peacekeepers in the Golan Heights.
The UN force was established in 1974 to monitor the disengagement of Israeli and Syrian forces in the Golan Heights following the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in 1967 and Syria wants the land returned in exchange for peace.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.