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DFA chief recommends PHL troops to stay in Golan Heights

Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario

Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario

MANILA, July 31 (Mabuhay) — Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said Wednesday that he has recommended to President Benigno S. Aquino III to allow the more than 300 Filipino peacekeepers from the Golan Heights to stay after the United Nations agreed to meet all the conditions set by Manila to ensure greater protection for the Philippine troops.

“It looks like those conditions will be accepted so on that basis the likelihood is we will continue beyond August 11,” Del Rosario told a press conference.

The Philippines has 343 peacekeepers, who are part of the U.N. mission monitoring the armistice line in Golan Heights between Syria and Israel following the 1973 Arab-Israeli war.

Some 25 Filipino peacekeeping troops were seized in two separate occasions by rebels in March and May, prompting the Philippine government to re-assess its troop presence there.

Last July 12, Del Rosario met in New York U.N. Undersecretary General for Peacekeeping Operations Herve Ladsous who pledged the world body “will be working with all stakeholders to provide what is needed” and “agreed that providing more robust self-defense capabilities for UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) personnel would be vital to the success of the mission.

In that meeting, Del Rosario laid down three conditions that would make the Philippines consider keeping its troops in the Golan Heights.

He said the Philippines will not withdraw its peacekeepers if: The UN is able to deploy UNDOF’s mandated full troop strength of 1,250 by October 2013; Necessary equipment for the protection and defense of Filipino troops and other UNDOF are procured by October 2013; and the Philippines be allowed to deploy troops using a six-month rotation.

On the first condition, Del Rosario said the U.N. is expected to bring up its troop strength to 1,250 by October after Ireland and Fiji have signified their interest to deploy peacekeepers.

Discussions are ongoing on the second condition of providing additional defensive equipment for the peacekeepers, he said.

“We are still in discussion but it looks like we are almost there in terms of equipment requirement,” Del Rosario said. “We are just waiting for confirmation for weapons that will be provided.”

On the third condition, Del Rosario said the U.N. has agreed to consider Manila’s request for a six-month rotational troop deployment instead of one year.

“Six months is okay because what the UN Security Council had decided, which is one year, would not be enforced until 2015,” Del Rosario said.

UNDOF contingents are deployed by rotation cycles, usually every six months. However, the U.N., in early 2013, extended the cycle to one year.

The Philippines has a total of 742 police, military and jail personnel in eight U.N. peacekeeping operations, namely Haiti, Liberia, South Sudan, Cote d’ Ivoire, the disputed territory of Abyei between Sudan and South Sudan, the India-Pakistan border and Afghanistan. (MNS)

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