Golan standoff highlights need to pull out Phl peacekeepers
Alexis Romero (The Philippine Star) - August 29, 2014 - 6:02pm

MANILA, Philippines  - The latest crisis in Golan Heights justifies the Philippines’ decision to pull out its peacekeepers in the area, a former commander of the United Nations Disengagement Force (UNDOF) said Friday.

Defense Undersecretary Natalio Ecarma III, who served as UNDOF chief in 2010, said the safety of Filipino troops was the main consideration behind the decision.

“The President said: ‘I am the father or I am the President of 100 million Filipinos, even these soldiers who are in Golan Heights. I care for their safety and security.’ So this new threat, in a way, justifies his decision,” Ecarma said in an interview.

“One of the requirements of UN is to ensure the safety and security of our peacekeeping forces. For now, we can see that our peacekeepers in Golan Heights are threatened,” he added.

Ecarma said the UNDOF addresses crisis through negotiations and not by confrontation.

“UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and his assistant secretaries are contacting, backchanneling, talking to those who are supporting these rebel groups to talk to them and make them stand down and not continue threatening our peacekeepers,” he said.

Last week, the Philippine governent said it would pull out the Filipino peacekeepers deployed in Golan Heights and Liberia within the year.
The 331-strong Filipino contingent serving as part of the UN Disengagement Force in Golan Heights will be repatriated at the end of their tour of duty in October.

The Philippine team in Liberia composed of 115 soldiers will be repatriated as soon as possible because of the health risks posed by the Ebola virus outbreak in Africa.

Almost a week after the Philippines made the announcement, Syrian militants occupied the positions of UNDOF troops in Golan Heights to seize firearms and ammunitions.

Filipino peacekeepers refused to give in to the rebels’ demands, resulting in a standoff. A total of 75 Filipino troops are being surrounded by the rebels as of this writing.

Defense department spokesman Peter Galvez said the Philippines’ commitment to peace remains despite the crisis.

“Our commitment with the UN still stands,” he said.

Galvez stressed that the government would remain open to redeploying peacekeepers if the situation in Golan Heights improves.

“There will be an assessment and if the situation improves and they need a third party to act as peacekeepers, we will make a recommendation to the President,” he said.

Galvez declined to comment when asked whether the crisis would prod the government to pull out its Golan Heights contingent before the end of its tour of duty in October.

“We have not discussed that part yet,” he said.

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