THE 346 Filipino peacekeepers in Golan Heights have been given additional duties as they took over the tasks of the Austrian peacekeepers who have bee recalled home.
Armed Forces of the Philipines (AFP) Public Affairs Office (AFP-PAO) chief Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala on Thursday said the AFP remains committed as force provider despite injury suffered by one soldier and two abduction incidents.
With the turnover of additional territories from Austrian forces, Zagala said the Philippine battalion, despite its small number, has accepted the responsibility but implemented additional safety measures against possible abduction by rebel Syrian forces.
The issue of safety and protection of our UN peacekeepers is really a priority at the moment. Although the Austrian battalion pulled out, safety measure are being implemented by our Philippine Battalion to ensure that such incident won’t happen again,” he said.
Among the adjustments made was the clustering of Filipino forces.
“There is safety in numbers and the political dynamics in Syria has changed a lot and because of this we have to also adjust our forces so that their safety and protection will be ensured,” Zagala said.
He explained that the Philippine troops are there to maintain peace between Syrian and Israeli forces along the disputed Golan Heights.
The Filipino contingent will remain in the area until August and will be replaced by another group unless higher authorities will stop the deployment.
“Our troops there are scheduled to come home in August and if we are going to rotate or send new ones that is the next question to be answered by our own government. This is an international commitment,” Zagala said.
On March 6, Syrian rebels abducted 21 Filipino troops. They were freed after three days.
Four more Filipino soldiers were abducted on May 8 but were likewise released days after.
Early this month, a Filipino peacekeeper was wounded during a firefight between Syrian government and rebels forces. The soldier suffered a leg injury from a mortar shell that landed at Camp Ziouni, a logistics base for the UNDOF.
William B. Depasupil