Pinoy peacekeepers back from Golan Heights
Jaime Laude (The Philippine Star) - September 20, 2014 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - The Philippines has pulled out its peacekeepers from the Golan Heights two weeks ahead of schedule amid worsening security in the border region.

A total of 244 Filipino peacekeepers arrived in Manila on a UN-chartered plane last night from Tel-Aviv, Israel, the military said.

 The troops, led by Capt. Nilo Ramones, had traded shots for seven hours with the al-Qaeda-linked Syrian rebels who wanted them to surrender their weapons, Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesman Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala said.

“The first batch of peacekeepers is expected to arrive Friday. The rest will be arriving on Sunday,” Zagala said.

He said the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) had approved the withdrawal of the Filipino troops from the troubled region.

“Troops are being repatriated because of the deteriorating security situation in the Golan Heights,” Zagala said.

“Protection of our soldiers is in the national interest.”

Zagala said the troops would be subjected to a medical checkup before reporting to their mother unit, the AFP Peacekeeping Operation Center in Tarlac under Col. Roberto Angcan.

They will pay a courtesy call on AFP chief Gen. Gregorio Catapang and President Aquino when he returns from his European trip.

The military has prepared a heroes’ welcome for the soldiers for standing their ground against the Syrian rebel forces.

“The Filipino soldiers exhibited bravery and commitment to their mission when they stood their ground even after the rebels succeeded in taking over the positions held by Fijian peacekeepers,” Zagala said.

Last month, Col. James Ezra Enriquez requested for his immediate repatriation after resigning his UNDOF post following disagreements with the Indian UNDOF commander, Lt. Gen. Iqbal Singh Singha, over his handling of the Golan Heights crisis.

Singha wanted the trapped Filipino peacekeepers to surrender their weapons to the Syrian rebels but Enriquez resisted his order.

The gunmen had disarmed and abducted 45 Fijian peacekeepers who were later freed unharmed.

The UNDOF withdrew hundreds of members of the peacekeeping force from the Syrian side to the Israeli-occupied sector of the area on Monday after Syrian fighters advanced near their positions.

Even before last month’s standoff, the Philippine government had decided not to renew its peacekeeping force in the Golan Heights due to safety concerns.

The Filipino soldiers were scheduled to end their mission next month.

More than 100 Filipino UN peacekeepers have been recalled from Liberia amid the deadly Ebola outbreak there.

Despite the Golan Heights pullout, the Philippines will continue joining UN peacekeeping missions abroad and is set to replace its 150-strong force in Haiti this month, Zagala said.

“We are still committed to the UN,” he said.

The Philippines also maintains three peacekeeping observers and three staffers in the Ivory Coast and four in the Kashmir region between Indian and Pakistani forces. 

                                                                  

 

ARMED FORCES OF THE PHILIPPINES DESPITE THE GOLAN HEIGHTS GOLAN HEIGHTS GREGORIO CATAPANG AND PRESIDENT AQUINO INDIAN AND PAKISTANI IQBAL SINGH SINGHA IVORY COAST JAMES EZRA ENRIQUEZ ZAGALA
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