Peacekeepers’ recall to take up to three months – DFA

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The process of repatriating Filipino peacekeepers from Liberia and the Golan Heights may take between two and three months, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said on Monday.

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“It may take two to three months to complete the process,” Charles Jose, Foreign Affairs spokesman, said in a text message.

On Sunday, the official said the department was “compelled” to pull out Filipino troops from Liberia and the Golan Heights because of threats to their security and well-being.

Currently, there are 331 Filipino peacekeepers in the Golan Heights and 148 in Liberia.

The peacekeepers in Liberia will be evacuated from the country over an outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus, which has already claimed at least 1,400 lives in the three affected West African countries.

The department is also planning to raise alert level 4, or mandatory repatriation, in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone because of the outbreak.

Raising the crisis alert would allow the Philippine government to evacuate Filipinos there.

There are about 880 Filipinos in Guinea, 632 in Liberia (including 148 United Nations Filipino peacekeepers) and 1,979 in Sierra Leone.

The Philippines maintained troops in Liberia to help monitor a ceasefire agreement in the wake of the resignation of President Charles Taylor and the conclusion of the Second Liberian Civil War.

Ebola virus is a severe and often fatal illness in humans. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), it has a case fatality rate of 90 percent, with occurrence highest in remote villages in West Africa and Central Africa, near tropical rainforests.

The virus is transmitted to people from wild animals, and it spreads through human-to-human transmission.

“Severely ill patients require intensive supportive care. No licensed specific treatment or vaccine is available for use in people or animals,” the WHO said.

Symptoms include a sudden onset of fever, intense weakness, muscle pain, headache and sore throat. This is followed by vomiting, diarrhea, rash and impaired kidney and liver function.

In some cases, people inflicted with the Ebola virus can suffer from both external and internal bleeding.

The incubation period, the time interval from infection with the virus to onset of symptoms, is between two and 21 days.

The current Ebola virus outbreak was said to have started in Guinea in December last year.

On August 8, the World Health Organization declared the Ebola outbreak in West Africa a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC), as defined by International Health Regulations (2005).

Meanwhile, Jose said the United Nations is aware that the Philippine government has been monitoring and studying the security situation in the Golan Heights, part of disputed territory between Syria and Israel.

The United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (Undof) keeps peacekeeping forces in the territory as part of the ceasefire enforced there to end the Yom Kippur War in 1973.

“In the case of [the Golan Heights], the UN has been aware over time that the [Philippine government] has been carefully assessing the evolving situation,” Jose said also on Sunday.

He added that there have been “a series of incidents involving our peacekeepers [that]have demonstrated that they are exposed to unexpected serious risks, which may worsen on the basis of current developments.”

A group of Filipino soldiers were abducted in March last year, although they were released days later.

At one point, the Philippines has the largest contingency of peacekeepers in the Golan Heights after several countries pulled out their troops from there.

“Finally, it has been established that there is a greater need for our soldiers to be in the [Philippines],” Jose said.

Filipino peacekeepers have been in Liberia since 2004, and in the Golan Heights since 2009.

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