|Four Filipino UN Peacekeepers Released From Captivity|
13 May 2013, Camp Ziouani, Golan Heights – The Philippine Battalion serving with the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) stationed in the Golan Heights was relieved from heightened tension and pressure after four of their colleagues were released from captivity on 12 May 2013. The four UN peacekeepers were abducted while on patrol on 7 May by Syrian rebel forces at Position 86 located in the demilitarized zone.
The recent spate of kidnappings of peacekeepers in the Golan sent another shockwave in the international community, especially in the highest echelons of the UN. The incident also prompted the Department of Foreign Affairs to recommend the withdrawal of Philippine troops in the area
Along with other UNDOF Officials, Lieutenant Colonel Nolie Anquillano, Philippine Battalion Commander, received and assisted the four soldiers in their travel from the Syrian to the Israeli side in Camp Ziouani. The entourage was able to reach the camp around 3:00pm (local time). Several elements of the Philippine contingent anxiously waited for their comrade-at-arms and felt delighted to see once more colleagues who went missing for days. The four UN soldiers maintained their composure and showed no signs of tension, projecting an unparalleled professionalism and bravery of Philippine soldiers much to the admiration of other contingents operating in the area.
Philippine Ambassador to Israel H.E. Generoso D.G. Calonge welcomed and received the soldiers to boost their morale. In a short briefing, Ambassador Calonge said that the Philippine government is pleased that their difficult ordeal was finally over and that he is hoping that this will be the last deplorable incident in the Golan Heights. The Ambassador commended their bravery in the face of overwhelming challenges and noted the gallantry of the other eight Filipino soldiers who remained and held Position 86 when Syrian rebels tried to take the position.
The Ambassador also praised the entire Philippine battalion for demonstrating calmness despite the tension and for projecting the positive image of the Philippines by performing their regular duties and responsibilities despite the uncertainties at hand.
Ambassador Calonge also met UNDOF Head of Mission and Force Commander Major General Iqbal Singha at the Philippine Battalion's headquarters. Major General Singha intimated his wish for the Philippines to reconsider the recommendation to withdraw Philippine troops in the area.
UNDOF Chief of Staff Colonel Cirilito Sobejana expressed the Mission's appreciation for the Philippine Embassy's assistance and coordination with stakeholders for the safe and swift release of the soldiers. He assured their respective families in the Philippines, relatives, colleagues and friends that the soldiers appear to be in good shape and in high spirits despite several days of being held in captivity. He however stressed that, as a standard procedure, the soldiers will undergo stress debriefing and physical examination before being allowed to go back to their regular duties.
Later that day, Ambassador Generoso D.G. Calonge met Undersecretary General Hervé Ladsous in charge of peacekeeping operations of the United Nations who has held the position since September 2011. Undersecretary General Ladsous conveyed the message that the UN was relieved after the release of the peacekeepers and thanked Ambassador Calonge for his support for the mission.
The Philippines have been sending Filipino soldiers as peacekeepers in the Golan Heights since October 2009, replacing the Polish contingent that has provided military personnel for UNDOF since its formation in 1974. It will be recalled that Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria after the Six Day War and subsequently foiled the Syrian attempt to retake the conquered territory in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Following that war, UNDOF was established to monitor the demilitarized zone.
The Arab spring in 2011 and the on-going Syrian crisis prompted other contributing countries, such as Canada, Japan and Croatia, to withdraw their troops in the Golan while the Philippine, Austrian and Indian contingents have remained despite the crisis situation. —END—
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