Phl pulling out 446 peacekeepers
Jaime Laude (The Philippine Star) - August 24, 2014 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - The Philippines has decided to pull out within a year all of its 446 troops on peacekeeping duties in the Golan Heights and Liberia under United Nations-sanctioned global peacekeeping operations.

Defense department spokesman Peter Paul Galvez said the 331 Filipino troops serving as part of the UN Disengagement Force (UN-DOF) in the Golan Heights will be repatriated at the end of their tour of duty in October.

Also covered by the pull-out order are the 115 Filipino peacekeepers currently deployed in Liberia, one of the countries hardest hit by the Ebola outbreak currently sweeping the region.

“Amidst the volatile security environment in the Middle East and North African region, the Philippines prioritizes the safety and security of its troops, but remains committed to the peacekeeping missions of the United Nations,” Galvez said.

President Aquino decided to order the repatriation of the Filipino peacekeepers to ensure their safety as cross border fighting in Syria intensified. As long as the security environment in the troubled region does not improve, the Filipino troops would not be replaced.

The repatriation of the Filipino peacekeepers in Liberia will be done at the soonest possible time,  Galvez said.

After their arrival, the troops would be quarantined for at least two weeks to determine the condition of their physical health.

Some local and foreign sources said the decision to withdraw the Filipino troops from the Golan Heights will leave the Indian peacekeepers as the main force to maintain the fragile peace in the troubled region.

Leaving the UN peacekeeping operations at this crucial time, the sources said, will have a negative impact on the Philippines’ high-standing before the international body and its effect could be felt beyond the term of President Aquino.

They stressed that at the height of massive devastation caused by Typhoon Hainan/Yolanda, no less than UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon made personal calls to all heads of UN-member states asking them to send immediate assistance to the storm-ravaged Visayas region.

Ban did this in recognition of the Philippines’ steadfast commitment to the world body’s international peacekeeping operations, they said.

“What really impressed the UN was when the Philippines did not quiver by maintaining its troops at Golan Heights while foreign troops from six countries deployed along with the Filipino troops in the troubled region were pulled by their respective state because of mounting war in Syria,” one source said.

They also hinted the pull out could affect the Philippines’ current strong legal standing on its territorial case now being heard before the UN’s International Tribunal on the Law of Sea against China.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), however, said the government’s decision to pull out the Filipino peacekeepers will not affect the country’s standing in the world body and its international image.

Foreign Affairs spokesman Charles Jose said the Philippines is already coordinating with the UN on the pull out of its  the 331 Filipino peacekeepers in the Golan Heights and 115-member peacekeeping force in Liberia as the deadliest Ebola outbreak in history continues to plague West Africa.

Jose explained the decision is not a sudden pull out, but the Philippines is just not replacing its current contingents in the UNDOF and in Liberia, saying they actually ended their tour of duty last June.

“The Philippines has served with distinction in UNDOF since 2009 and in UNMIL since 2004, so our contributions to the cause of peacekeeping are well appreciated by the UN,” Jose said.

“We don’t expect our decision to withdraw our troops to affect our standing in the UN and our international image,” he said.

Galvez likewise expressed confidence the withdrawal would not hurt the country’s standing with the UN, recalling that Filipino troops had remained in Golan Heights in 2013 even after six countries withdrew their respective forces.

“The situation has become more volatile with increased security risk, hence the recommendation and subsequent approval for repatriation,” Galvez said.

British Ambassador Asif Ahmad cited Filipino peacekeepers in the Golan Heights and Liberia, saying they served with distinction.

“Pinoy UN peacekeepers have served with distinction in the Golan Heights and Liberia.

Thank you,” Ahmad said on his Twitter account.

The Philippines has been contributing to the maintenance of peace and stability by sending troops to UNDOF since 2009 when the Polish Contingent turned over its command to the country.

Filipino peacekeepers in the Golan Heights were conferred last April the prestigious UN Service Medal after 112 days of performing peacekeeping operations.

UNDOF commander Lieutenant General Iqbal Singh Singha commended the performance of the Filipino peacekeepers and said they have done exceedingly well in their mission.

The UN also awarded medals to Filipino military peacekeepers serving in Liberia, commending them for executing their duties with “dignity and professionalism and for doing so always with a smile.”

On the other hand, reports said Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has closed most of the country’s borders to stop the Ebola virus from spreading.

The World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed 224 cases of Ebola in Liberia, including 127 deaths. Ebola has killed at least 660 people in West Africa. There were 45 new cases reported in the region last month.

The WHO called for an end to the targeting of health workers in conflict areas.

WHO director-general Margaret Chan made the appeal in noting the threats and harassment of health workers in the West African countries struck by the Ebola outbreak.

“These professionals are taking personal risks to provide critical medical care, but have been threatened, shunned and stigmatized. Doctors, nurses and other health workers must be allowed to carry out their life-saving humanitarian work free of threat of violence and insecurity,” Chan said. –  Pia Lee-Brago, Sheila Crisostomo

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