Tuesday, September 2, 2014

UPDATE: The Case of the Filipino UN Peacekeepers

Last Thursday, August 28, Syrian rebels (the al-Nusra front an al-Qaeda affiliate) surrounded encampments of UN Peacekeepers at the Golan Heights, a buffer zone between Israel and Syria. Forty-five Fijian peacekeepers from one encampment surrendered their weapons, but two other encampments manned by Filipinos, refused to surrender. One camp with 32 Filipinos were evacuated with the help of Irish peacekeepers. The other camp with 40 Filipinos stayed on and engaged in a 7-hour firefight with the Syrian rebels before they were able to escape.

Of the daring escape, Chief of Staff General Gregorio Catapang Jr. said, "With God's grace, the area was not foggy. We were able to run in the middle of the night when the rebels were sleeping. We made our greatest escape. It was a difficult escape route. The route we passed through was mined."

Here are additional facts, not mentioned in Western media reports:

1. The 72 Filipino peacekeepers belong to the 80th infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army, and had gone through the Philippine Army's Batallion of Excellence program. Although they are only in their twenties,  they had fought communist insurgents in Mindoro, Philippines before their deployment to Golan in November 2013;

2.  Last year, 21 Filipino peacekeepers who were out on patrol in two separate occasions (March and May) had been detained by Syrian rebels and released after several days. While in captivity, the Filipinos reportedly befriended their Syrian captors and their captors obliged them by giving them their favorite food of fried chicken and rice;

 3. During the recent altercation between the al-Nusra and the Filipinos, UNDOF  commander Lieutenant General Iqbal Singh Singha had ordered that the Filipinos surrender their firearms to the Syrian rebels, an order which the Filipinos defied.

4. The 40 Filipinos in the besieged camp made a midnight escape with all their weapons during a cease-fire truce. All 72 Filipinos are safe.

5. The most recent news is that the al-Nusra presented their demands for the release of the 45 Fijian peacekeepers as follows:
 - their organization, the al-Nusra should be removed from the United Nation's list of terrorist organizations;
- humanitarian aid should be sent to an al-Nusra stronghold outside Damascus;
- compensation for three of their fighters who had been killed in their firefight with the Filipino peacekeepers;

In addition, there is an unconfirmed demand for the release of an al-Qaeda leader held by Syrian authorities.

6. The Filipino UNDOF commander, Colonel Ezra Enriquez, who is third in UNDOF command, offered his courtesy resignation for defying the order of UNDOF Commander Lieutenant General Singha for the Filipino peacekeepers to surrender their arms. At the same time, Philippine Armed Forces chief General Gregorio Catapang Jr. demanded the investigation of Singha.

The pictures are file copies, courtesy of Rappler.com.

P.S. I am deeply sorry at today's news of the murder of American journalist Steven Sotloff by ISIS.

Read also
ISIS Recruiting in Mindanao, Philippines
Is Peace in Sight for Muslim Philippines?
tags: Middle East, Syria, Israel, Golan Heights, United Nations, UN, peacekeepers, Filipinos, Fijians, al-Nusra, Nusra, Al Qaeda, hostages

This is all for now,

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